Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The world's greatest Trout

I don’t get Jeff Glor. Not yet anyway. He’s the new CBS Evening News anchor – sitting in the Walter Cronkite chair. That used to be the single most prestigious and respected position in broadcast news. Earlier this month Glor was in Los Angeles because of the brush fires. He went out to a fire location and the local CBS-TV affiliate news anchors interviewed him out in the field.

I was shocked. He couldn’t articulate two sentences without stumbling, repeating himself, saying “you know,” rambling, changing subjects, and conveying nothing. It was the first time I had ever seen him when he wasn’t reading off a teleprompter, and to say he was unimpressive was an understatement.

Compare that with Robert Trout.

Who’s Robert Trout you’re probably saying? He was a CBS newsman, first on the radio in the 30’s and 40’s and television for several decades after. When Franklin Roosevelt was president he would have periodic “fireside chats” (one-on-one radio interviews) with Robert Trout.

One day Trout was sent out to New York harbor to report live on the return of President Roosevelt who was arriving via cruise ship from Europe. The ship was scheduled to dock at noon.

So at 11:55 they threw it to Robert Trout who went live coast-to-coast just holding a microphone poised to describe the president’s return. The ship was in sight; it was only a few moments before the president would be back on native soil.

Trout did his brief introduction and noticed that about 100 yards offshore the ship stopped. Trout didn’t know why but just kept talking. He described the reason for the trip, what the president hoped to achieve. He described the ship and the dock and the other well-wishers who were in attendance. He talked about cruise lines, talked about politics, recapped Roosevelt’s agenda, put it in world-wide perspective.

Finally, after about 45 minutes the ship was on the move and docked several minutes later. A relieved Robert Trout made his way to the gangplank to get a quick interview with the president. Roosevelt emerged, Trout caught up to him and asked what the delay was?

Roosevelt said, “Oh that was my doing. I told the ship to stop. I had a radio and was listening to you and wanted to see how long you could just ad lib. Very impressive.”

In those days a reporter had to be able to put two sentences together – or thirty. I sincerely doubt that Jeff Glor could do something like that. But Cronkite could. And Dan Rather. And Peter Jennings. And John Chancellor. And Chet Huntley. And David Brinkley. And certainly Edward R. Murrow. Al Michaels, a sportscaster, switched immediately and effortlessly into the role of news anchor when the San Francisco earthquake hit just before a World Series game.

Looking good, being young, and being able to read smoothly off a teleprompter is a poor substitute for real journalism. And now more than ever, we need all the true journalists we can find.

49 comments :

Paul Smith Jr. said...

When I saw the headline, I assumed this was an article about Mike Trout.

Brian said...

I heard this story about Robert Trout, but it involved a train. From the Christian Science Monitor:
https://www.csmonitor.com/1982/0129/012900.html


"...According to Trout, Roosevelt had a devilish sense of humor. ''I'll never forget the day in 1936 when he came to Philadelphia to accept his second-term nomination. I was at the railroad tracks, filling in live while we waited for the train to stop. Finally, the train stopped and, with great relief, I said, 'Well, the train is here at last and the President will be emerging in a moment.'' He didn't come out. We waited for a long time, with me having to talk all the while. I was frantic.

''Several years later I learned that he told some newspapermen that he had been listening to me on the radio and was all set to step out of the train when the thought hit him: 'What will he say if I don't come out. . . .' Then, he sat down and waited.''

Jim Grey said...

I could listen to Robert Trout all day. Here's video of a 1965 newscast he anchored -- he was, at the time, the anchor of the 6:30 news on WCBS in New York.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JKDRMQ8p7s

roadgeek said...

WTF? What's a Jeff Glor? I've never heard of this guy. Robert Trout, I know. Trout could also write. I have a book of horror short stories around here. Maybe an old "Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories to Curdle Your Blood", or something. I dunno. Given to me decades ago when I was a child, and I really enjoyed the book. I think I still have it.

Anyhow, Robert Trout had a story in there. The story was written in the form of a transcript, as though Robert Trout had taken to the airwaves to narrate a catastrophic event. And he was at CBS Headquarters in New York, and there'd been a tremendous explosion at the direction of DC, and little was known, but....and it went on in that vein, Trout narrating the attack on Washington DC. The word "nuclear" was never used, but it wasn't necessary. It was just there, in the background, foreboding and ominous. Trout never leaves his desk, but ultimately, after reports of explosions in Baltimore and Boston, his own studio comes apart......

And that story just scared the shit out of an 11-year old kid. Scared me a lot. It was just so well-written. Bob Trout. Never forget that name.

roadgeek said...

The story was called "D-Day", and was first published in the "Saturday Review of Literature" of 10/27/1945. It was republished in "Alfred Hitchcock Present Twelve Stories for Late At Night", ninth edition published January, 1973.

Can't recommend it enough.

Dave Creek said...

I don't watch CBS News that much these days other than the occasional 60 Minutes episode and occasionally checking in on CBSN (their online news network that thankfully has more hard news and not as much punditry as the cable channels). But I thought I'd at least have HEARD of the new Evening News anchor. He gives me no reason to switch my loyalties from NBC Nightly News and Lester Holt.

Brian said...

Also, for a lengthy interview with Trout, go here:

http://emmytvlegends.org/interviews/people/robert-trout#

Jeannie said...

I think we've achieved full "Broadcast News" reality, where a pretty face really is all that matters.

DaisyMae said...

In my opinion Scott Pelley was axed because he was brave enough to tell the truth about our current administration, and it was probably costing them viewers (grays prefer pablum to hard-hitting journalism). I listen to the CBS Evening podcast almost every night, and I think the news has suffered a lot since Pelley was ousted.

404 said...

Thank you, Ken! This is a problem I've seen that's just about everywhere these days. It doesn't matter if it's on TV, the radio, the internet -- people can't talk without having to pepper in these annoying verbal fillers every two or three words. It's all "uh" and "ya know" and "like" and it drives me crazy. I can't listen to announcers or interviews or broadcasts with these in them.

The fact that I teach Public Speaking probably has something to do with it, but I'm glad to know it's not just me.

Brad Apling said...

A-1. If you can’t do basic drawing, all the CG software in the world won’t help you be a good digital artist in TV or films. Good scripts come from being able to write well in telling a good story with humor or drama added, not by cheap jokes and pratfalls. Good reporting comes from telling a story as it happens or happened from different angles - the wide and macro views - and connect it to the viewer, not to the technology.

blinky said...

Broadcast News in real life.
Jeff Glor needed Holly Hunter to feed him his lines thru his IFB.

VincentS said...

Amen, Ken.

estiv said...

Journalism in general, but TV journalism in particular, began its decline when the owners realized how much income it was bringing in and began to view it more as a revenue generator than as a public service. They may have said that they were just packaging the news better and not making any changes to how they handled content, but that was bullshit. When I first saw Stone Phillips on the air I realized how much things were changing: totally artificial demeanor, no noticeable journalistic talent, but obviously meant to be a Big Deal. And when Brian Williams publicly expressed his admiration for Rush Limbaugh, it couldn't have been clearer that he was valuing an interesting presentation over any journalistic principle. Roone Arledge and Jeff Zucker are probably the most important figures in implementing these changes, but by now it's just the way things are.

Okay, I think I need a drink.

Anonymous said...

Progress does not always move in a straight line forward.
Something to remember.

Roger Owen Green said...

I'm a big CBS News watcher, and Scott Pelley was GREAT. I don't know how Glor, who led the coverage of a lot of the disasters in 2017, is going to improve their ratings. (Also, he has no decent signoff.)

Anthony Mason was solid enough, but apparently still wanted to do CBS This Morning Saturday. And he's 61, while Glor is 42.

I THOUGHT when I saw that when Pelley was going, they'd replace him with Norah O'Donnell, replace her on the morning with Bianna Golodryga. When Charlie Rose retired (before the scandal), he'd be replaced by Glor.

Way back in 1965, ABC had Peter Jennings anchor the evening news. He kinda sucked. Jennings became a foreign correspondent in 1968, reporting from the Middle East. He became part of a troika of anchors in 1978 and sole anchor in 1983. He WAS trainable, and so, I suspect, is Glor.

Curt Alliaume said...

Amen to your notes on professional journalists. I was fortunate enough to intern at CNN when Bernard Shaw was one of the main anchors - always in control on screen, and generous with his time to us peons when the red light was off.

I get the idea that the networks make more money from the morning talk shows than from the nightly news broadcasts (because we can now pick up that information any time of day from any number of sources), so the important people are the ones on 7 AM. The result is the evening news anchors aren't particularly well known - for example, David Muir has appeared on Windy City Live on WLS in Chicago many times, which I'm guessing is an attempt to boost his Q rating. I'll be curious to see who replaces Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose over the next few months, and who has the main role the next time a news event that requires "iron pants" (as Walter Cronkite was referred to for his ability to stay on the air and ad lib for hours during major events).

Michael said...

If you go to You Tube and look for Guy Lombardo and New Year's Eve, you'll find a broadcast where Robert Trout did play-by-play of the ball dropping. He was impressive, to say the least.

An interesting note or two. One is that Murrow was actually not that great an ad-libber, compared with Trout or Cronkite.

The other is that there's a fine book, The Murrow Boys, that tells the story of when Egypt's ruler, Nasser, died in 1970, Eric Sevareid happened to be in the Middle East, and Winston Burdett from Rome would report from there, and the two of them went on and did a 30-minute special report where they just sat and talked about Nasser and the Middle East. Ad-lib. Without graphics. Name one journalist who could do that today. Christiane Amanpour? Probably. But a network anchor or reporter?

Mike Bloodworth said...

In a previous blog you mentioned how improv classes helped you with your other creative endeavors. Maybe Jeff Glor, in fact, maybe all reporters should take some improvisation as part of their schooling to help them think on their feet. That way even if he doesn't know anything at least then he could fake his way through. I'll bet Jeff Glor has a degree in journalism. I bring this up because in a previous blog you made similar comments about substandard local news anchors here in L.A. Ironically, they are all college graduates with degrees in journalism. Once again, I'm NOT anti-education! But,its quite obvious that college is not the panacea some people think it is. Nor is "non-college" as detrimental as some believe.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

I think it relates to the difference between radio and tv. To survive in radio in the 30's 40's and 50's, reporters had to be able to speak on their feet. Knowledge of the subject, composure, staying in the moment...and practice...all contributed to competence. For TV, the primary skill is reading, smiling...and bobbing the head in a knowing way. -sigh- Glor will have a decent career, I bet.

When I was a weekend copy boy at KNXT (KCBS) in the late '60's, the weekend anchor had been a radio reporter during WWII before coming to TV in the '50's. He once gave me a tip on ad libbing: "When you're stuck, just begin describing what you see...in order...from left to right."

The weekend anchor, Clete Roberts, was a pro! It was cool to see him in MASH years later when you and David included him in one of your episodes.

RyderDA said...

They should write a movie about that. Oh, they dd... BROADCAST NEWS, which was, for the record, depressing as hell when you thought about its implications (that we are now living out)

Anonymous said...

In somewhat related news, the DC-area CBS affiliate is about to switch its morning news programming to a comedy news show, hosted by a former (failed?) comedian and ESPN commentator.

normadesmond said...

But he's more coherent than president shitstain!

E. Yarber said...

There's a full-day broadcast recording of CBS on D-Day, and it's fascinating to hear the news unfold in real time, the correspondents coming into the studio one by one in the wee hours of the morning trying to analyze the fragmentary information coming in. The initial announcement of the invasion came from German broadcasts, so no one in America could be sure at first if anything was really happening or if it was just some propaganda game the Nazis were playing. You're listening to a lot of smart, experienced guys talking candidly on the air, which is exactly what you would want when something so momentous was taking place. Now it really is just show biz.

YEKIMI said...

35+ years ago I was applying for a DJ position at a company that had a radio/TV combo operating out of the same building. They had just hired some pretty face pageant winner to be a reporter for the TV side thinking "That'll bring in the viewers!". They were taking me through the station and trotted her out like an "added attraction" feature. Just listening to her talk for a bit and I got the impression that she could barely add 2+1 together. Didn't get the DJ job but I had friends that worked on the TV side that told me what a train wreck she was; she couldn't even write her own news copy to read on the air. They ended up just using the cameraman's shots and then had her out in the station parking lot reading the story off cue cards that someone had written for her. She lasted about 4 months and at the end the just had her doing weather on the weekends.I can remember her pointing out a weather system and saying "Storms will be coming in from the west out of....out of....out of....this state here, I can't remember it's name" giggling all the while. I wonder which executive at the station had the hots for her so bad that he just had to hire her. I probably didn't get the DJ job because I didn't fawn all over her and have drool coming out of my mouth.

Kevin Johnston said...

My first thought when watching Jeff Glor anchor the CBS News was "Who does he have incriminating evidence on?". Seriously. Scott Pelly wasn't perfect but he did convey the sense that he took things seriously. I half expect Glor to look into the camera and say something incredibly stupid.

Dr Loser said...

Hair, teeth?
What;s not to get?

Peter said...

As well as vacuous journalism, we also now live in an age where the current administration has given the CDC a list of words that should not be used, including fetus and science-based. Satire is officially dead. This is clearly aimed at pleasing the evangelical contingent who voted Trump. The types who judge people on their sex lives or sexual orientation but strangely don't seem to have any problem with a married man bragging about grabbing women by their vaginas.

On the bright side, this time next year, the Democrats will have full control of Congress. Doug Jones' win in Alabama was just the beginning.

Barry Traylor said...

Hate to be a killjoy but I rather like the guy.

James S said...

"In those days a reporter had to be able to put two sentences together – or thirty. I sincerely doubt that Jeff Glor could do something like that. But Cronkite could."
Jeff Levine
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In those days, and later, we also had real reporters, news and facts. Today we largely have infotainment and spin, with very limited exceptions, to feed the dumbed down masses.

McAlvie said...

Huh. I didn't know his name, but the photo is familiar. Haven't heard the new guy yet, but I have to agree that there don't seem to be any Cronkites, etc. any more. And that is sad because if we ever needed a voice of stability and authority, it is now. I want to say they are all too young, but they all started out that way. And yet, I was around and seeing Rather and Cronkite and the others on the news back when they were fresh faced, and they seemed pretty sober and dependable even then.

@Michael: "Eric Sevareid happened to be in the Middle East, and Winston Burdett from Rome would report from there, and the two of them went on and did a 30-minute special report where they just sat and talked about Nasser and the Middle East. Ad-lib. Without graphics. Name one journalist who could do that today"

Because they didn't just read cue cards, they really knew this stuff. That's a pro. We don't have that kind of class or integrity in any profession these days that I can think of. Let's hope that somebody grows into the role.

Joe Blow said...

Michael and McAlvie:

"Name one journalist....." There aren't many but there is one for sure: Christiane Amanpour. She has just taken Charlie Rose's place on PBS; unfortunately it is temporary.

Charles H. Bryan said...

To describe Glor as robotic would piss off R2D2. They also tried some new camera setup where, instead of the reporter sitting across the anchor desk and answering questions, Glor and reporter stand at some little coffee shop high table while a hand held camera pans back and forth and occasionally zooms uncomfortably in.

VP81955 said...

I'll point out another culprit, but it's not from TV -- it's National Public Radio. A fine news-gathering organization, only rivaled on American radio by CBS (now only technically affiliated with its television namesake). Unfortunately, I can't stand NPR's intentionally informal interviewing style, specifically the cutesy "hello" intros and outros with their subjects; it smacks as smug yuppie-ism, playing to the Starbucks crowd. (And as someone who doesn't drink coffee and deems Starbucks teas mediocre at best, don't get me started.) It diminishes the gravitas of NPR news, but then again nearly all news aside from the BBC lacks gravitas. (And I hope this doesn't sound sexist, but relatively few women in TV news exhibit gravitas. Hardly any are hired for that reason, if you catch my drift; gravitas is the antithesis of "happy news.")

Foaming Solvent said...

Trout was great.

Murrow was the original dramatic stern-voiced pretty boy. I have listened to hundreds of hours of old Murrow broadcasts and the current broadcaster most like him is Geraldo Rivera. The reason Murrow was so popular is because the other announcers of the time tended to be monotone talkers (usually with a nasal voice), while Murrow (armed with a degree in theater from Washington State College) had a great voice and emoted. He SOLD the story with his voice. He also told just about every story in the first person -- "I watched as ..." "I stood on the roof and saw ..." etc. It cracks me up that broadcast journalists cite him as the paragon of their profession, when what made him popular was the fact that he was entertaining.

Anyway, someone mentioned D-Day, and you can listen to 24 hours of CBS D-Day coverage here: https://archive.org/details/Complete_Broadcast_Day_D-Day. It starts with Bob Trout at about 3 a.m. and continues through just about all of CBS' announcers (and eventually becomes very boring because after the first couple of announcements there was no official news that day and they just kept rehashing the old news).

Here is 24 hours of NBC's D-Day coverage starting with the great and unremembered Robert St John -- now THERE was a journalist. Google him some time. https://archive.org/details/NBCCompleteBroadcastDDay

Mike said...

The evening news programs are not making money and they have an old demographic. Jeff Glor is an effort to attract the younger demographics, a la David Muir.

I agree that we need journalists - journalists who report objectively, and challenge the political party in power regardless of their own political convictions. Those types of journalists have been in short supply over the last 20 years. The news media would be less susceptible to Trump’s attacks if they weren’t so sloppy in an effort to “get” him.

Tom said...

Mike is half right - objectively is in short supply in modern journalism, and as much as many hate Fox News, they wouldn’t have half the audience that they do if many people didn’t have reasonable suspicions about the agenda of the more traditional outlets.

That said, at least as much damage is done to journalism as a whole by the mad rush to be first. The lust for a scoop is never ending, and yet I think it matters much more to those in the industry than it does to potential viewers. People will follow sources that they trust, regardless of who makes the initial break of a story.

Andy Rose said...

One of the best things about Trout (and Cronkite) is they would always parry other people’s attempts to deify them. Trout had a great segment with NPR many years ago where he pointed out that the most famous recording of him announcing the Japanese surrender was really a fake. The actual broadcast, though very compelling, was not perfect enough for Fred Friendly, who forced Trout to redo it for a later retrospective. I hope you don’t really believe that extraordinarily exaggerated story about FDR’s arrival either. Yeesh.

The Evening News is an interesting example because Trout himself (with his long face, prominent nose, and awkward mustache) was passed over for the original anchor chair in favor of Douglas Edwards. By all accounts Edwards was a nice guy and a solid newsreader, but he was basically the original TV news pretty boy. Some things never change.

Paul Vigna said...

I respect your opinion, Ken, and I'm a daily reader, but I'm compelled to say a word in Jeff's defense. I was interviewed by Jeff when he sat in as guest host on Charlie Rose's show. The topic was bitcoin, and it was myself, a Bloomberg reporter, and a fund manager. Jeff wasn't a bitcoin expert, but he had clearly done some homework, had a lot of questions to ask, and moderated the conversation well. It was just the four of us for about 25 minutes straight, no commercial breaks (PBS), talking about a pretty arcane subject. If you've ever conducted an interview with even one person, you know how hard this can be to do well. Maybe he's not an in-the-field guy, but on set he did fine.

VP81955 said...

Andy Rose, your comment on Trout redoing the announcement of the Japanese surrender at the behest of Fred Friendly reminded me of Murrow's "I Can Hear It Now" LPs with history highlights from 1919-1932, 1933-1945 and 1946-1949. A history buff even in my youth, I listened to them via headphones at my branch library in Syracuse in the mid-sixties. They were compelling...but what I didn't know at the time was that the vast majority of the albums' "broadcasts" were re-creations, as relatively few news broadcasts of the time were recorded. (Only a handful of radio shows from the 1920s exist, and radio news didn't make much headway until the late '30s.) Nevertheless, Murrow's theater training made those records succeed, inauthentic as they were.

Curt Alliaume said...

I was a reporter for about eight months after graduating from college (I didn't have the ability to be occasionally obnoxious to dig for the story when it was required). Almost every working journalist I talked with told me not to major in journalism, but in something else - good reporters needed to be able to not just write, but write about something. (Unfortunately, one of the journalism classes I took was taught by a reporter who completely altered the way I wrote; based on the reaction from the newspaper I worked for, that was to my detriment.)

That applies to Murrow's Boys (Burdett and Severeid, plus the others). Winston Burdett studied Romance languages in grad school, Severeid was a poli sci major. Charles Collingwood was pre-law, Howard K. Smith studied journalism and German, Richard C. Hottelet in philosophy, Larry LeSueur in English.

In fairness, Jeff Glor did graduate magna cum laude with dual majors in journalism and economics. Muir graduated magna cum laude as well as a journalism major.

Dan Reese said...

I had the same observation when Jeff Glor was reporting live from the hurricanes on CBS This Morning this summer. So much stumbling and pausing and searching for words. CBS has a dozen reporters sharper than he is. Not exactly a heavyweight with gravitas.

Jeff P said...

Wow....totally agree. Not really the BEST guy for the job----CBS News for cryin' out loud. I'm underwhelmed by the choice. During a recent Special Report, he was actually looking down.....away from the camera, and added exactly NO "anchorman context" to the story. Poor choice, maybe a nice guy but---I can't watch him.
I'm sure Anthony Mason is bummed...great journalist and personality-----oh, but he doesn't look like a GQ model........

thirteen said...

CBS assigned Robert Trout as anchor of the New York local news, back before 1964, when the network produced the local news for New York and Washington. I grew up watching Bob Trout.

Then I wound up at CBS News, a long time ago. One of the joyful days of my experience there was, suddenly, having Bob Trout and Walter Cronkite come into the newsroom looking for Douglas Edwards, who was sitting at one of the desks. Doug began showing Messrs. Trout and Cronkite how to work the computers we'd just gotten. There they were, in a tight group with Cronkite and Trout looking over Edwards' shoulder and, I thought to myself, I'm in fucking Asgard.

B Smith said...

A similar thing happened to BBC Chief Correspondent Richard Dimbleby back in the 1950s...

"Once, his son David Dimbleby remembered during a visit to Los Angeles this week, his father was on hand to describe the opening by the queen mother of an exhibition of needlework. The appointed hour arrived and the queen mother did not. Dimbleby recited everything he knew or had ever heard, thought or felt about needlework. ("He always did his homework," David Dimbleby said.)

The queen mother finally appeared, 20 minutes late, with profuse apologies for Dimbleby. "My dear Mr. Dimbleby," she said, "I'm so sorry to be late, but I couldn't stop listening to all those fascinating things you were saying about needlework.""

MikeKPa. said...

What do you expect? We live in a world that values style over substance, worships celebrities for being celebrities (no obvious talent). To paraphrase the last line in CHINATOWN, "Forget it, Ken. It's TV."

Buttermilk Sky said...

I'd point out that Cronkite and others of his generation began as wire-service reporters or worked on newspapers (those paper-and-ink things that kids on bikes would deliver to your house -- never mind). Irrespective of looks and vocal quality, they had to be able to construct English sentences with subjects, verbs and facts. It was radio -- sorry, Ken -- that began the long twilight of journalism.

Kaleberg said...

Television news fell apart in the 1990s. I think it was in response to 24 hour cable news, particularly as it scooped everyone during the first war with Iraq. Do you remember those touching "Christmas cards" where they'd have all their foreign correspondents check in on Christmas Day as the wrap up for the evening news? Sure, there was just one stringer in Djibouti working for all three big networks, but at least they had a stringer in Djibouti (which is right now a hotbed of intrigue with US, Russia and Chinese interests, sort of like Casablanca in the 1930s). Those were all gone in the late 1990s along with any real news. It was all People Magazine / Soviet Life fluff. For a while, I tuned in now and then, but by 2000, the news was dead.

Terry said...

I liked Scott Pelley better. I don't know why they got rid of him. I usually watch CBS because a)they don't YELL the news at me--I'm sick of the loud, inflection for attention delivery of most news people and b) they do more actual news.

Once, while traveling, I caught both the ABC and CBS evening news when Fukoshima melted down. The difference was remarkable. CBS (with Katie Couric at the time, whom I don't care for) covered facts and gave lots of technical information. On ABC, Diane Sawyer opined about how everybody must be feeling in the area affected. No facts, no actual information, just how sad it all was. That's not news. That's a People Magazine piece.

NBC seems to fall in between: loud-pitched delivery, but more facts. ABC actually shows youtube videos--which just makes me laugh.(I have to watch ABC on weekends due to sports.)