Saturday, July 18, 2009

Walter Cronkite -- He was there for me.

Journalism lost one of its superstars yesterday with the death of Walter Cronkite. I have special, personal memories of him.

For years, he lived in a townhouse across the street from my co-op. He might have been an internationally known and immensely respected newsman, but on East 84th Street he was our neighbor. He stopped by our block association fall street fair and our Christmas party when he was in town, and he stood at 84th and First Avenue in November to cheer on the marathon runners, a good neighbor in all ways.

I first met him at the association Christmas party the year after I moved to 84th Street. Later I wanted to put together a journalism book and, although I figured he wouldn’t remember me, I decided to write to him about it.

I was teaching in the graduate journalism school at NYU when I had the idea for my first book, Journalism Stories from the Real World. Since I had always found it helpful -- and fun -- to use an anecdote to teach specific points, I thought I could put together a strong book if I collected stories from journalism professors all over the country with their examples of how they use stories from their days as a reporter to teach the important rules of journalism.

People sent me stories of covering the Kennedy assassinations, busing in Boston and the Vietnam War. I had wanted to ask Mr. Cronkite to write the introduction for me, but was waiting to get a publisher lined up first. When I met with rejection after rejection, I decided it might help if I had Mr. Cronkite onboard first, so I wrote to him, explained my project and asked him if he would write the intro contingent upon my getting a publisher. In return mail I received his generous answer.

“I don’t have the time to labor over an adequate introduction right now, but I have enclosed a letter which might help get the cooperation you require from the professors and a publisher,” he wrote. “And, as you see, if it all comes about, I’ll somehow find time to do that introduction.”

He kindly included a To Those Concerned letter, which said in part: “From the first responses Ms. Blaney has received to her request for anecdotal contributions, it is clear to me that she has a marvelous idea for a book that not only would be a worthy and unique journalism textbook, but also would provide a very good read (including a few tips) for us journeymen journalists. If the book materializes as I feel it must, given her dedication and talent and the value of the idea, I shall be honored to do the introduction -- no matter how much that may detract from the volume’s general excellence.”

Well, the book did materialize, published by North American Press in 1995. In it is the thoughtful introduction by Mr. Cronkite, a journalism giant who cared enough to help someone at the opposite end of the spectrum in need.

Thank you, Mr. Cronkite, and may God bless you.

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