I’m sure that people under a certain age aren’t understanding why those of us over that same certain age are making such a big deal over the death of Walter Cronkite.
Here’s one way to think of it: Imagine if the only way you could get real-time news was on a radio (but not NPR) or three TV stations that aired national news for 30 minutes a day. And let’s say one of those TV stations had a dominant market-share, so about half the country watched it. And let’s say that on that dominant TV network, there was only one “anchor man” — an anchor man who more-or-less developed the style we now think of as being an “anchor man.” And let’s say that all through the 60s and 70s, this man anchored the news every night about when your family was sitting down to supper (and imagine your whole family sitting down to supper at the same time). And let’s say no one turned off the TV during supper while this man was anchoring the news in the background. So, this guy, Walter Cronkite, was the person from whom you first heard the following news: the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and John Lennon. Every major event in the Civil Rights movement. The entire war in Viet Nam, Kent State and Woodstock. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Cold War. The 1968 Chicago Democratic Party Convention. Watergate. The Bicentennial (he loved those tall ships). The Iranian Hostage Crisis. And a journey to the moon that, for me, corresponded roughly from the time I was in the second grade until the summer before I went into the tenth grade.
And let’s imagine that everyone (except Archie Bunker) trusted and respected Walter Cronkite so much, he got the nickname Uncle Walter.
Imagine Walter Cronkite being your real-time Internet.
Then, you’ll get some idea of what Walter Cronkite was to people over a certain age.
A Sidenote: The amazingly prolific New York Times reporter Brian Stelter was born four years after Walter Cronkite retired as anchor of the CBS Evening News (at the mandatory age of 65). Yet last night on Twitter and on the NYTimes.com Media Coder Blog, Brian provided a remarkable demonstration of how a new media journalist works. Not only was he working his remarkable network of sources, he was also using Twitter to review and help improve his posts — something being called “crowd-sourcing” by those who feel the need to label such things. In the midst of his writing and reporting, he was also curating the news — including pointing to non-New York Times coverage and resources. I’m not sure how many people appreciate what all Brian was doing or how extensively he was tapping into the experience and network he’s gained since he started to blog about the TV industry as a freshman in college. But I have no doubt that if Walter Cronkite was 24 years old today, he’d be working hard to master the tools and approach Brian has.