They Sent Us Home to Watch the Show*

tv-newsAs this is posted, today would have been Walter Cronkite’s 100th birthday. For many people, Cronkite was the trusted news source for decades. Of course, news gathering and reporting has changed dramatically since 1981, when Cronkite yielded his news anchor seat to Dan Rather. It’d be interesting to know what Cronkite would think about today’s news formats and newscasters. There are dozens of television and other journalists in crime fiction, and I thought it might be interesting to look at a few of them.

Fans of Andrea Camilleri’s Salvo Montalbano can tell you that one of his good friends is Nicolò Zito, who works for Vigatà’s Free Channel. Zito’s especially interested in stories that expose corruption among the wealthy and privileged, or in high government places. So, he’s usually happy to work with Montalbano to get to the truth about a case. On the one hand, Zito has his own political views and agenda. But even so, he does try to get the story right, as the saying goes. His employer often goes after stories that the government-run news networks don’t.

In Frankie Y. Bailey’s The Red Queen Dies, we meet Albany, New York, police detective Hannah McCabe. She and her police partner, Mike Baxter, are faced with the deaths of two young women who were killed by injections of phenol. Then, there’s a third murder that might (or might not) be connected. Some of the help that McCabe gets comes from her father, Angus, who is a retired journalist. He goes after stories in what you might call the old-fashioned way. That said, though, he is adept at using modern technology. He has a lot of integrity, too, so his input is very useful on several levels as McCabe and Baxter put the pieces of the puzzle together.

There’ve been, as I say, a lot of changes in news reporting since Cronkite’s days. With the advent of television came the advent of a focus on the visual. And that means a focus on appearance. We see that in several stories that concern television journalists.

One of them is Catherine O’Flynn’s The News Where You Are, which concerns TV presenter Frank Allcroft. He’s happily married, and has a strong bond with his eight-year-old daughter, Mo. But he’s reached a crossroads in his life. At the same time as Allcroft is trying to figure out which direction he’ll take, he’s also deeply affected by the death of his predecessor, friend and mentor, Phil Smedway. It seems that Smedway was out jogging one morning when he was killed in a hit-and-run incident. Allcroft is drawn to the scene of Smedway’s death, and notices some things about it. For one thing, the road there is straight and wide. Even a drunk driver would likely have been able to swerve in time to avoid hitting Smedway. For another, the weather was dry and clear. Now, Allcroft wants to know what really happened to his friend. Among other things, this book shows what it’s like for news presenters who spend a lot of time in front of unforgiving cameras.

We also see a bit of that in Paddy Richardson’s Traces of Red. Rebecca Thorne is a Wellington television journalist who’s made a name for herself co-hosting Saturday Night. But there are young, talented journalists coming up behind her, and she’s aware of that. One of them is Janet Beardsley, whose show, Courageous Leaps, has been getting a lot of attention. She’s the new darling of the network, and Thorne is savvy enough to know the implications for her own career. If she can just get the right story, she’ll be set. And she thinks she finds that story in the case of Connor Bligh. He’s been in Rimutaka State Prison for several years for the murders of his sister, Angela Dickson, her husband, Rowan, and their son, Sam. Only their daughter, Katy, survived, because she wasn’t home at the time of the attacks. There are little hints that Bligh might be innocent. If he is, this the sort of story that will cement Thorne’s position at the top. So, she goes after it. Among many other things, this novel shows the sorts of challenges television journalists face. Is the story the truth? What drama can we add to get people watching (without detracting from the truth)? How does it (do we) look? What are the ratings? Incidentally, Cross Fingers, the second Rebecca Thorne novel, also addresses some of the issues of modern news presenting.

And of course, I couldn’t do a post on news journalists without mentioning Liza Marklund’s Annika Bengtzon. Admittedly, she’s not a TV news anchor. But she faces some of the same pressures. Getting the story right, getting people to talk to her, and getting there ahead of the competition are all critical to success in her field.

With today’s instant access to news, and the visual nature of news presenting, there’s a real focus on ‘instant’ and on appearance. Many people claim that makes the news more accessible to more people, and that’s a good thing. Others say it’s made news presentation much more shallow. Wherever you stand on that issue, it’s hard to deny Cronkite’s influence on television news and on journalism in general.


On Another Note…


Speaking of news…….

The winners of the Blackjack Blog Scavenger Hunt are….

Prashant, who blogs at Chess, Comics, Crosswords, Books, Music, Cinema

D.S. Nelson, who blogs at Every Day’s a Mystery

FictionFan, who blogs at FictionFan’s Book Reviews

Congratulations to the winners!!!!!

If you’ll kindly email me your details, (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com ), I’ll get your prize sent right to you!

Thanks for playing!


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from John Fogerty’s I Saw it On TV.


Filed under Andrea Camilleri, Catherine O'Flynn, Frankie Y. Bailey, Liza Marklund, Paddy Richardson

33 responses to “They Sent Us Home to Watch the Show*

  1. Margot: A few years ago I read Cronkite’s autobiography. He is an excellent writer.

    In terms of 2016 he would be appalled at what passes for news coverage of American politics.

    Personally he would have had the moral stature to actually moderate Presidential debates and require both candidates, especially Donald, to be civil. I could see him quelling Donald’s interruptions, mean remarks, rambling and evasiveness.

    • I could see him doing that as well, Bill. And to be honest, I think he’d be appalled, too, at the way current news media outlets are covering American politics, especially this election. I appreciate your perspective on that. I really must read Cronkite’s autobiography. I’m sure that he was as skilled at writing as he was at getting the story in a truthful and fair way.

  2. Ah, yes, I remember Walter Cronkite (only just, but have heard my father mention him with respect).
    One fictional TV journalist who comes to mind is also the young, ambitious female reporter Isrun from Ragnar Jonasson’s Blackout, who becomes both personally and professionally involved in the murder investigation in the isolated Icelandic community of Siglurfjordur. There was another ambitious and well-drawn TV reporter in the Danish TV series Borgen (not a crime series, but a political one, very good).

    • Oh, you’re right about Borgen, Marina Sofia. I admit I’ve only seen just a bit, but I like what I saw. And thanks for mentioning Blackout. That’s another great example of the sort of dedicated journalist who really wants the story, and wants to do her job well.

      As for Cronkite, he was iconic in the world of news and television journalism.

  3. tracybham

    That is interesting, Margot. I never thought of newscasters in crime fiction. Although I have not yet read anything by Catherine O’Flynn, I have The News Where You Are and What Was Lost. Hope to get to both of them soon.

    • I hope you will, too, Tracy. I normally try to be as objective as I possibly can when I discuss books. But What Was Lost ranks as one of my top. books. ever. And The News Where You Are is excellent, too, in my opinion. Both highly recommended.

  4. Cronkite was a journalist and delivered the news – even the tough stories like the Kennedy assassination – in a way that either comforted us or let us know that we were sharing it together. Today’s “newscasters” tend to be models or muckrakers, out for ratings rather than delivering the news. That’s part of the reason this campaign season has been so anxiety-provoking for me.

    • It has been difficult, hasn’t it, Brad? And you’re right that Cronkite really kept his focus on reporting the news – whatever it was – in a way that people could understand, but that didn’t pander to them, either. You make an interesting point, too, about the ratings. I’m not in the broadcasting business, so I don’t know, but it strikes me that ratings matter much more than they did when it comes to the news. And I’m sure that what we hear/see, and who tells us is impacted by that fact.

  5. Ooh, how exciting! Thanks, Margot – I shall pop you an e-mail! 😀

    I’ve been watching quite a lot of the US election coverage on CNN and Fox and have been amazed by how different political coverage is over there – the open bias. Of course, many people think our own news coverage has a lot of hidden bias in it, and I wouldn’t argue with that, but it’s never blatant as it is in the US. I remember, though, one of our own top political journalists, Nick Robinson, in a book he wrote on the relationship between politicians and the media, commenting that he felt open bias might be better because it could be recognised for what it is more easily. But I do think it’s quite dangerous – if people stick to just one channel (and I supect most do) then they only get a very one-sided picture of what’s going on…

    • That’s quite true, FictionFan. I know I’ve seen it happen. The thing is, many people believe what they want to believe, whether or not it happens to be objectively true. So when they gravitate towards networks that shore up those beliefs, they never question what they hear. And that can mean people don’t try to make sense of what’s going on. To me, that’s dangerous. It’s interesting that you mention what Robinson said about blatant bias. He makes a point; certainly you want to know what you’re dealing with, so to speak. On the other hand, as you say, it might not be best. And, of course, no-one can be completely objective. We’re all human, so we have our opinions. I think one challenge for the truly conscientious journalist is being aware of that bias and working to keep it out of stories to the extent possible. And then, it’s up to the individual, too, I think, to know that those news stories are biased, and read/listen to/watch other perspectives. Hard to do, but it’s a more effective way of getting a solid picture of an issue.

      I’ll look forward to getting your email, and I do hope you’ll enjoy the book!

  6. Great tooic Margot and one I’ve not really thught bout before. In my own books, Blake reads the paper but he doesn’t watch the news, funny, I’d have thought he did lol 🙂

  7. Margot, thanks for the win. I truly appreciate it. And I enjoyed the quiz. Two books related to news and media that I read many years ago were “The Evening News” by Arthur Hailey and “The Spike” by American journalists Robert Moss and Arnaud de Borchgrave. The latter was particularly gripping and influenced me as a reporter when I started out in 1986.

    • I didn’t know you’d been a reporter, Prashant! Then you’ll have a special interest in, and knowledge of, what it takes to get the story and get it right. Thanks for letting us know about those two books. I’m especially interested in The Spike. I should investigate that further.

      Congratulations, and I’m glad you enjoyed the scavenger hunt.

      • Margot, “The Spike” is a terrific book and had acquired a somewhat cult status, especially among journalists. Incidentally, journalism runs on my dad’s side and art and music runs on my mom’s side. My grandfathers and great-grandfathers on both sides were writers and columnists, while my paternal grandmother published many short stories in her time. My dad and his elder brother were veteran journalists too. My wife, too, started out as a journalist before taking up teaching at college and corporate levels.

        • Ah, I see! Writing runs in your family, Prashant. That’s really interesting. What’s good about that is that you can all understand each other’s interest in current events, in writing, and so on. That’s great. And thanks for sharing that information about The Spike. I really ought to read it.

  8. Col

    I can dimly recall Cronkite from this side of the pond. Not too familiar with TV journalists in my reading, more the newspaper type. Liam McIlvanney’s Gerry Conway for one. Brookmyre’s Parlabane another.

  9. Very common conduit into a mystery. And many of the writers who use it have been journalists, I think. Like Brian Gruley’s series.

  10. My friend, fellow blogger, and Shamus Award Finalist Max Everhart featured a female reporter (sorry, can’t recall her name[s]) in his great mystery, ED, NOT EDDIE. Said reporter was protagonist PI Eli Sharpe’s first ex-fiance (he’s had others down the line). She shows up to cover a hot story that Eli is involved in, using a different “professional” name. Eli falls hard again, and she really brings a mix of emotions to the storyline. Great stuff! 🙂

    • Thanks, Michael, for the mention of Max’s stories. That’s a great example of the sort of thing I had in mind with this post, so I”m very glad you added it in.

  11. mudpuddle

    Cronkite epitomized a forgotten concept in today’s news: integrity… i’ll never forget him covering the first moon landing…

    • Integrity describes it exactly, Mudpuddle. Yes, of course he wanted to get the story first. But not at the expense of integrity. Folks, if you aren’t old enough to remember Cronkite’s coverage of the moon landing, check it out right here. Time well spent…

  12. An interesting post and I echo what FF said, the news coverage in the UK is quite different to that which you have in the US. Our coverage is supposed to be neutral whereas your news seems more channel led – I love it when the media crop up in crime fiction although we see the newspapers far more frequently than those on TV

    • Thanks, Cleo. It’s really interesting what you and FF say about neutrality and news coverage. Before there was such a wealth of different networks, the news coverage was more neutral, at least officially. In my opinion, that started to change after the arrival of more networks. But I could be wrong.

  13. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 5…11/7/16 – Where Genres Collide

  14. kathyd

    Yes, I remember Walter Cronkite, a well-respected and true journalist. Also, we don’t always mention him, but Edward R. Murrow was another one.
    Journalists in crime fiction are interesting characters. Annika Bengtzon is more of a character with a lot of personal problems and deals with a lot of things that aren’t part of the mystery. But her books are riveting.
    Nicolo Zito is an important character in Salvo Montalbano’s world.
    Are there any books with scrupulous journalists without big personal problems who feature in mysteries?

    • I’m glad you mentioned Edward R. Murrow, Kathy. He, too, was certainly a journalist with integrity, and very well respected. And yes, Zito is an important part of Montalbano’s world, both as a friend and as a professional contact.

  15. I only recently got to What Was Lost – you were one of those who recommended it. What a book – and thanks for the reminder to read The News Where You Are.

    • Isn’t it an amazing book, Moira? I’m so glad you got the chance to read it, and even more glad that you enjoyed it so well. I do recommend The News Where You Are, too.

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