When it comes to identifying an individual who personifies what it means to be an effective communicator one name that surely fits the bill is Walter Cronkite, who passed away on July 17, at the age of 92.
Cronkite is best known for his role as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, a position that he maintained from 1962 through 1981. During those years, if there was an event that you wanted to get the straight honest story on, Cronkite was the man to turn to. He had a steady manner that was direct and to the point. And yet there was also warmth to his baritone voice, such that you knew there was a genuine human being reporting the news of the day, as opposed to simply a person reading a teleprompter.
Cronkite’s forthrightness acted like a magnet. You wanted to tune in and hear what he had to say. When he ended with his famous sign-off “And That’s the Way It Is,” well, you knew it was so.
The man’s work is considered so definitive that clips of his reportage are frequently included in documentaries about any number of important situations. Anyone who was around during the 1960’s and 1970’s can likely recall events that they learned about from Cronkite. His announcement of the assassination of JFK— how he halted slightly as he pondered the reality of what he was saying—is legendary.
The same goes for when Cronkite uttered a slight laugh, rubbed his hands together and let out a “whew” and “oh boy!” when man first landed on the moon. It was a monumental achievement that represented the accomplishment of a great technological challenge as well as a triumph for our nation and Cronkite communicated all that in his delivery.
Occasionally Cronkite included commentary in this broadcast. His coverage of the civil rights movement helped to bolster the public’s support for that issue, and his searing observations regarding the futility of America’s participation in the Vietnam War is said to have led to then-President Johnson’s decision to not seek re-election.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. The man mattered. What he said made a difference in how we perceived what was happening in the world. And at times he even made a difference in what happened.
I am not aware that Cronkite had a communications strategy per se, but if he did it might go something like this: Do your homework, check the facts, be honest, stay in control no matter what the circumstance and tell it like it is.
- Deni Kasrel
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