As 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.