Monday, April 9, 2012

Measuring Up

Our initial plan today was to talk about the Affordable Care Act - and the lack of any real alternative plan from the Republican Party. Regardless of the pending decision of the Supreme Court, the ACA will still be able to stand without the mandate. We'd be happy to compare President Obama's ACA and the plan of the Republican Party – but after nearly a year-and-a-half of chanting 'repeal and replace', the GOP still doesn't have a replacement plan.

We've chosen not to focus on a comparison of health care plans today, though. As veteran journalist Mike Wallace might have told us, that would be too easy for us.

So we're focusing on the more difficult-to-nail-down Wallace, who died over the weekend at the age of 93. Mr. Wallace is a hard subject to focus on, in large part, because he was the kind of journalist who so much of the media never really understood - and really still needs to.

Mr. Wallace didn't have formal training as a journalist. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1939 with a Bachelor of Arts degree - not a journalism or broadcast journalism degree, as many thought he had. He became a pro by studying broadcasting and journalism - but not formally. Wallace simply found his way into the college radio station, enjoyed it, was good at it, and stayed in the media for nearly the rest of his life.

Frankly, our entire staff is familiar with stumbling into successful careers in media and communications, much like Mike Wallace did.

For all the incredible but hostile interviews he conducted, and for being credited with developing things like the "ambush interview" - where a reporter catches a subject off-guard - Wallace actually had an incredible sense of journalistic integrity. His colleagues Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Harry Reasoner all shared that same journalistic integrity - as some like Dan Rather and Lesley Stahl still do.

While there were some notable times when Wallace fought against the corporate execs at CBS and lost, his own professional integrity never seemed to fail. So many in the media these days attempt to mimic Wallace's style and fail regularly - most notably, Wallace's youngest son Chris, who works for the right-wing propaganda distribution machine at Fox.

What most of them seem to have forgotten - or never learned - was that Mike Wallace's style may have been confrontational at times, but it was not his only journalistic tool, and not even his most commonly used one.

For those people who've studied Mike Wallace, and for those who knew him, they say his research and "homework" abilities were truly the key to his success. He worked hard to boil down complicated concepts and stories into understandable and relevant twelve or eighteen minute packages that would usually air just once, on Sunday nights. You can be sure that some of the millions of Americans who watched his work may not have even heard about some of the topics he reported on, before he introduced them.

Stories from Wallace's colleagues note how intent he was on getting things right. He was almost as focused on grabbing just the right story to tell, as he was about getting the story factually right. More than once, he was known to steal a story assignment from one of his colleagues - because he thought he could do the story better.

He usually was right to do so, something his colleagues have also admitted.

We've been proudly watching 60 Minutes lately, and to the eyes of our own staff, the current reporters on that show like Steve Kroft, Lara Logan, and Byron Pitts, seem to be measuring up very favorably to their more seasoned co-workers, like Leslie Stahl, Morley Safer - and of course, the late, great Mike Wallace.

More of our colleagues in the media should to try to measure up not to the flash and shock value of Wallace's most controversial interviews, but instead focus on getting their facts right while being able to tell the stories they choose effectively and quickly. By doing that they too might leave the ranks of the mere media figures, and legitimately join the ranks of real journalists, as Wallace himself did.

Here's to the hope more try to measure up - and succeed.

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