OPINION: A silent majority quietly reading, trusting the news
I didn't mind when Walter Cronkite choked up on the air on Nov. 22, 1963, as he announced that President Kennedy had died in Dallas.
It surprised me, because Cronkite never showed emotion. News anchors simply didn't. But the Kennedy assassination wasn't just any story. Across America, people were showing raw, honest emotion that day and in the dark days after. The nation's Uncle Walter could be forgiven for letting his emotions show, too, for a few moments.
If you still remember where you were when the news of Kennedy's assassination broke, you remember the usually stoic Cronkite removing his black-rimmed eyeglasses as he read the wire-service flash that confirmed the president's death. He paused, cleared his throat and continued with the news.
If you're too young to remember, I'm sure you can find clips of Cronkite breaking into the soap opera "As the World Turns'' to deliver the news. It's worth viewing, for its emotion and for its portrayal of a time when it was out of the ordinary for a news anchor or a news reporter to show any emotion. They sort of stood aside, observed and relayed the facts as they witnessed them or learned them from credible sources. They were spectators, and people paid attention to what they said and wrote.
I sometimes find myself longing for those times. Today we have countless sources of information and we trust few of them. Back then, we had a relatively few sources of information, but we tended to trust them. People argued over politics and social problems and public policy, just like today. But they agreed on facts, and they often found those facts by reading the same newspapers and listening to the same newscasts.
I grew up in a family of readers, as I've said before. We were encouraged to use the public library, and we did. But we also read "Look'' and "Life'' magazines, "Reader's Digest'' and the daily newspaper. When we got a television, we watched the local news and the bulletins from Washington and around the world.
We weren't that different from our neighbors. Most of the kids I grew up with read books regularly. Sure, some of the books were Hardy Boys mysteries, and we traded them back and forth after school. They were books, though, and we also read simple histories, such as stories of the Doolittle raid on Tokyo and Commodore Perry and the opening of Japan.
In high school, if we behaved in study halls, we were rewarded with a trip to the library upstairs or free time to sit on the stage and read the collection of newspapers that hung from wooden dowels along the wall. Kids lined up for their turn to read the newspapers. Sometimes so many kids were headed for the library at the same time the study-hall teacher had to set time limits for each visit.
For a time in Chamberlain, I carried the Minneapolis Tribune on Sundays. Think of that. The Tribune trucked Sunday morning newspapers all the way from the Twin Cities to Chamberlain, where a group of school kids turned out in the pre-dawn darkness to grab their bundles, stuff them in their paper bags and deliver them around town to subscribers who believed news was important. People on my route said they read every word on every page as they drank their coffee. When they finished the paper, they had another cup of coffee and worked the crossword puzzle, while the kids took a turn at the news. It mattered that much.
I started this essay with Walter Cronkite and arrived at the importance of newspapers in the life of my community because, well, Cronkite took the news seriously, and so did the people in my hometown. I have a hunch many people still feel that way about news these days and are diligent about keeping up with events of the day.
The loudest members of our society seem to get the most attention, but I'd like to think there's a whole country of quiet ones out there, reading and reflecting. It would be a good thing for our future. News is a serious thing.