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“A Reporter’s Life: Walter Cronkite,” by Walter Cronkite, Knopf, NY, 1996. This is Walter Cronkite’s book. In it he shares brief summaries of his long career in journalism rising eventually to anchorman at the CBS Evening News.

Cronkite was an old line journalist. He was not a college graduate. Rather, he began his career delivering newspapers and then copy boy for the Houston Post working his way up learning as he went. He was born in St. Joseph, MO and moved with family to Texas. There he noticed significant differences in the treatment of blacks. In the Southern tradition, a black delivery boy was not allowed to use the front door. One working for a drug store was shot for failure to make the right choice on a delivery. His death was unreported.

He joined United Press in Washington, DC, and was a war correspondent in Europe during World War II. Finally he moved to CBS where he continued until retirement. He gave up the anchorman position for the CBS Evening News in 1981–replaced by Dan Rather. He continued at CBS as a special correspondent. In 1993 he formed his own company to produce documentaries for the Discovery Channel, PBS, and others.

Cronkite was a story teller. His book is loaded with brief tales of the life of a reporter and the many he met along the way. We learn about the days of news by wire service. UP was the underdog vs arch rival Associated Press. There was a daily scramble to deliver the hot news before the competition and before press time. Regional offices sorted through local stories to decide which to distribute. Cronkite describes a four hour drive to reach an explosion in Texas for a first hand report. Wire service teletype machines distributed news fast, but getting to the site could be a challenge. Cell phones/photos/videos and the internet have changed much in the news business.

The book describes his “man on the scene” observations of World War II. He covered Atlantic convoys, the air war over Germany, D-Day, and the Nuremberg trials. He gives first hand descriptions of the V-1 rocket attacks and more. He seems not to have landed any major news stories.

Cronkite with his bride served two years in Moscow for United Press from 1946-48. His tales of post war life in Moscow are informative. Through a quirk UP owned a 4-room apartment. Housing shortages meant Russians lived four or five families to an apartment. Food was scarce. The stove was moved to the hall and all families contributed whatever they had to a constantly boiling pot or two. Foreign correspondents had ambassadorial rank and attended embassy receptions. There buffets were well stocked. Information was difficult to obtain. Censorship was strict. Russians were reluctant to talk. All conversations were monitored. Their apartment was raided and clothing stolen. It’s a glimpse of life in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

A salary dispute resulted in his departure from UP, first as the Washington, DC correspondent for a collection of Midwestern radio stations. He joined CBS to cover the war in Korea, but was assigned to news broadcasts at WTOP-TV in Washington, DC after it was acquired by CBS. His career took off as anchorman for CBS coverage of the 1952 political conventions. Anchor of the CBS Evening News followed.

He describes many events during his tenure. He interviewed all Presidents and many candidates. He covered the space race to the moon. He was a people person with many friends. Drinks after work was part of journalism. In old style journalism, the newsman was from the neighborhood and knew the life of working people. Today’s journalists are college trained and more distant. He laments the transition from quality journalism as practiced by old line newspapers toward entertainment, ratings, and showmanship. In the days of founder William S. Paley, CBS regarded news as a public service that brought the network prestige. That position has eroded over the years. The audience seems less interested in world events.

Chapters describe the details of putting a news program together. He is defensive about his alleged preference for talk pieces where the anchorman reads the news item rather than plays a film clip. Talk pieces give the anchorman more screen time.

He was honored by the creation of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University in 1984. Cronkite died in 2009.

This book is a fun read. It adds perspective to news events of the era. The stories are well told and highly readable. Photos.
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