FOR RELEASE ON OR AFTER WEDNESDAY, AUG. 18, 2004
BY WALTER CRONKITE
ADVISORY: THIS IS THE LAST WALTER CRONKITE COLUMN SYNDICATED BY KING FEATURES.
In the olden, more graceful days, a writer temporarily or permanently deserting the profession surely would say that he was "laying down his pen." In our modern digital age, the equivalent declaration would be, I suppose, that I am unplugging my computer.
That would not only be far less graceful, but it would likely be erroneous. The computer will still be here, and occasionally it will be put to use, but no longer in the service of this weekly column.
This will be the last of these offerings through King Features Syndicate. That worthy organization a year ago gave me the opportunity to return to the profession I always thought of as my real home -- writing for print, working as a newspaperman.
That is what we used to call ourselves. When I entered the field as a cub reporter in Austin, Texas, 68 years ago, it was rare that we used the exalted word "journalist" to describe ourselves. There were but a few women among our midst, and I apologize that I don't recall what title we gave to identify them. The "journalist" formality seems to have overwhelmed the profession sometime in the last half-century, perhaps necessitated by the advent of so many other sources of news -- radio, television and now the Internet.
In 1950, I deserted print to spend more than half a century helping to pioneer television news. Most of those years were spent traveling the world as the CBS anchorman on all the big stories: at home -- the political conventions, the national elections; and abroad -- the summit meetings in Vienna, Paris and Moscow, and the anniversary celebrations of D-Day, which I had originally covered as a United Press war correspondent.
Those television days unfolded into years and were rewarding -- and yet ... And yet they were not entirely satisfactory for an old newspaperman. The restrictions of time in television reporting were a constant frustration. There were space limitations in the newspapers, of course, but nothing like those brief headlines that passed for news stories on the magic tube. Thus it was that this yearlong return to the newspapers was such a happy conclusion to this newspaperman's career. It was a pleasure to feel that I was contributing at least a line or two to the newspapers' importance in the public dialogue.
This importance is not as fragile as might be assumed by the fact that yesterday's newspaper is such a handy wrapping for today's garbage. Yesterday's newspaper, carefully filed away, is the custodian of our history. From those newspaper files future historians will wring from the past the very essence of who we were and the world in which we lived.
The future of our civilization incubates in those newspaper files. From them will be extracted the knowledge that will point the way for future generations to avoid our worst mistakes and find the path to an even better world. Ah, yes, it is a heavy responsibility to the future that the newspaperman and newspaperwoman contributes by his or her daily effort.
I was proud to once again be a part of the newspaper world, but it has proved harder than I expected to fit the exacting deadline of a weekly column into my heavy schedule of television and radio documentaries and public speaking.
It is my hope that the writing you found here was at least adequate, but that, far more importantly, the reporting, and its fundamental research, was especially faithful, and, of course, that my conclusions were honest and fair, for these are the standards by which all newspapermen -- make that journalists -- should be judged.
Farewell to all of you loyal readers, and please accept my regrets that I found it impossible to answer your thousands of e-mail letters, which frequently offered most valuable opinion and comment that, indeed, broadened my own perspective on the important issues of the day. I learned a lot from you. I hope this was to some degree reciprocal.
I cannot depart without an inadequate word of thanks to two of my assistants who have made major contributions to my work. Dale Minor, a superb journalist who helped produce my daily radio commentary at CBS, has been an invaluable help in researching these columns, as has my longtime chief of staff, Marlene Adler. It has been a happy and rewarding experience for all of us -- particularly Marlene, who has perfected her talents at the trade, but, to her expressed regret, cannot quite claim to ever have been a newspaperman.
Write to Walter Cronkite c/o King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2004 Walter Cronkite
Distributed by King Features Syndicate