"Why is it called 'news' when it's always the same old thing?" (Dennis the Menace by Hank Ketchum, 7/15/2010).
Our family didn't get a TV until about 1953, although my dad had started an at-home TV repair service before then. They were an expensive luxury, our first coming second-hand from our rich uncle Ralph.
For a long time, there was only one station in St. Louis, KSD-TV, which was an NBC affiliate. My first memory was of that darn Indian logo, which would be on the screen for hours, accompanied by an incessant hum, before programs started.
For a long time the evening news consisted of 15 minutes of local news and weather, followed by equal time for John Cameron Swayze with national news. His is still the neatest name I can think of, John Cameron Swayze -- but you'd have to hear him say it.
On Oct. 29, 1956, when I was 13, NBC first aired The Huntley-Brinkley Report. I wanted to be David Brinkley. I still want to be David Brinkley. He was the smartest man I have ever seen on any news related broadcast.
On Sept. 9, 1963, the evening news expanded to an hour -- half-hour local and 30 minutes of Huntley-Brinkley. As I recall it now it was reported TV people had three ponderables: Should journalist do commercial "lead-ins" (giving any indication of approval of the sponsors)? What to call the broadcast: report or news? And, what I recall most vividly, would there even be enough news every day to fill a whole hour?
In 1980 a man named Ted Turner changed the news reporting world by establishing the Cable News Network (CNN). For the first time news was to be broadcast 24/7. It's most likely there were voices of doubt as to whether there even was enough news to fill 24 hours every single day. Today, Kay and I probably do not get through a day without turning to CNN or one of news channel spin-offs.
But, maybe there really wasn't all that much "news" -- giving rise to the news magazine formats and of commentator/host celebrities. As one of the best known of these commentators said, "It's about what I think."
The rising star of this genre has got to be Rachel Maddow of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC.
For the record, I probably hold a totally different world view than Ms. Maddow's, politically, philosophically, and -- for lack of a better word -- theologically.
Since coming to TV in 2008, she has reportedly been the highest rated on MSNBC. And, according to her official website, she is as smart as she appears to be -- having been a Rhodes Scholar and holding a Doctorate of Philosophy in Politics. Probably the reason she asks intelligent questions of highly intelligent guests happy to be interviewed by her.
What bugs me, though, is the use of the word "show." Putting on a show is just not what a journalist does. A Show is what Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland put on in two-dozen or so 1930s "B" movies (so I hear). What Rachel does certainly can be fun to watch; but it also borders on really important journalism. In this minor opinion if Rachel ever gets away from "it's about what I think" she will be mentioned in the same league with, say, Barbara Walters and Andrea Mitchell [forgiving, if you will, exposure of my innate chauvinism].
Rachel, you may well prove to be the smartest person at NBC news since David Brinkley left. Could you just find something besides "show" to call what you do?
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.