“We’re Going to Play a Vital Role, Or Become Obsolete”

By Chris Ariens 

(l-r) Stan Cloud, author of The Murrow Boys, Mark Effron, president & COO of TitanTV, Marci Burdick, senior VP of Schurz Communications, ABC’s John Cochran, Dr. Betty Winfield, author of The Edward R. Murrow Heritage, CBS Radio News president Harvey Nagler and KOMU-TV news director Stacey Woelfel.

The closing session of this year’s RTNDA conference pondered the question “What Would Murrow Do?” The discussion was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Edward R. Murrow‘s “wires and lights in a box” speech made to the RTNDA conference on Oct. 15, 1958. The panel was made up of Murrow authors as well as TV and radio executives, and moderated by ABC’s John Cochran, (who said he’s probably the only person in the room who’d actually met the legendary CBS Newsman; when Cochran was 21-year-old Army staffer working at the Kennedy White House).

The panel did as little “hand wringing” as possible about the current state of the industry (something they all promised to refrain from doing) but instead wondered what Murrow would think of the news media today. “He would have his own show on the History Channel, or Discovery or PBS and a website for investigations,” said Shurz Communications senior VP Marci Burdick.

The talk quickly turned to the opportunities and challenges the sheer number of media outlets can present. “You can decide on your own, not from one or four sources, but from 20 sources. I think Murrow would smile at that,” said former MSNBC VP Mark Effron. Dr. Betty Winfield took a more pessimistic view of the current state of affairs suggesting the networks themselves monitor blogs. So a reader would know “this is a lie or this is not true.”

And as for the digitization of the business, which, in some cases, has lead to job loses, Effron, now with digital media company TitanTV cautioned, “[Journalists] are going to play a vital role in the future of news or become obsolete,” said Effron.

Cochran ended the discussion with a message to the young journalists in the room, that there are other Murrows out there. These days, Cochran said, “We at ABC ask, ‘what would Peter do?'”