Westchester attorney Lisa Fantino remembers Uncle Walt

As a reporter, I had always aspired to work at CBS, the so-called Tiffany network.  I had worked at the top radio stations in New York City, something that would’ve made most journalists happy.  I had been an anchor at NBC but that still wasn’t enough…..no, it wasn’t until I was hired by WCBS-AM that I felt that I had made it because it was on that first day that I met Walter Cronkite.  I was nervous and excited as I entered Black Rock, CBS’ corporate headquarters on Sixth Avenue, that first day in 1993.  I entered the building feeling like I had finally made it as a broadcast journalist.  I signed into the lobby and entered the elevator and there, right there in front of me was Uncle Walt, the man I had idolized for so long.  I was tongue-tied and all this writer could say was “Good Morning Mr. Cronkite.”  He looked at me with that perpetual twinkle in his eye and asked what I was doing there and I explained that it was my first day, “Well then, welcome to the farm.  Good to have you aboard and go knock ’em dead.”  I’ll never forget that day.  CBS was like a family and Walter Cronkite was like the great grandfather whom we all honored.  They kept him locked away in a suite up on a top floor.  No one would see him except by chance.

Then Uncle Walt wrote his memoirs and by this time I felt like we were old friends.  So I approached his trusted assistant Marlene and requested an autograph.  She invited me into the inner sanctum and asked me to add it to the stack.  I just laughed.  There were piles of books all around his desk, piles of them, floor to ceiling, ……and Uncle Walt signed every one of them, even mine.  If you haven’t read “A Reporter’s Life”  yet, then run and do so for it will not only give you insight into the remarkable life of an incredible man but it will also give you a lesson in history and resilience, as well as explain the lessons learned in war and life, and of a nation in crisis, not too far from where this nation is today.  We will miss you Uncle Walt, all around the farm, all around the universe.  Rest in Peace.

Westchester attorney and veteran journalist Lisa Fantino wonders who’s at risk – today’s journalists or their audience?

The New York Times ran an article yesterday on the new world of risks for today’s journalists which raised some of the same issues I did upon the convictions of Laura Ling and Euna Lee in North Korea last week…….is it worth the risk?

The problem is multi-faceted and does not have an easy fix.  I saw the writing on the wall more than 15 years ago after I had spent half my life dedicated to journalism in the media capital of the world, New York City, and made the move to law school.  The networks, the Big 3 and then some, didn’t care about the quality of the work and certainly didn’t care about the people they were sending to cover news stories.

Photo by Lee Jaw-Won/Reuters

Photo by Lee Jae-Won/Reuters

While the news divisions of each network cost a lot to run, they were often the biggest money makers for the networks and carried them through the dark days of several drops in ad sales.  However, despite this economic upside, the news divisions were, and still are, treated like the poor step-children of Cinderella who lives in programming fairyland.

Today’s reporters no longer have a mentoring network where they can rely on and learn from seasoned reporters in the field and anchors inside at the news desk.  For today’s generation it is baptism by fire and they are forced to be one-man bands (or should I say bandits) in the field, covering dangerous stories and breaking news, solo, without a crew, and taking dangerous chances alone just to stay ahead of the competition.

Judgment and experience don’t have time to take hold when they are dodging bullets and dancing on political minefields.  These are basically renegade kids spawned from some broadcasting school (if they’re lucky) and not from the right hand of those who have sashayed around the dangers, both in the field and in the newsroom, and survived with class, style and intelligence.  No one has got their back and when they are literally grabbed in enemy territory, as is happening way too often (unless they are just locked in their offices as in Iran),  who will be there to defend them?  That is just one issue.

The more important reality is that we are relying on inexperienced reporters to tell us what is going on in the world.  Do they really know their sources?  Have they had time to establish their inner “radar” for when a source is using them to serve their own agenda.  I think not and we suffer as much as they do because we are left in the dark.  The sad truth is that I do not think this will ever improve.

Personally, I am honored to have learned from the likes of Stan Brooks, Chris Borgen, Mitch Lebe, Merv Block (whose text was my grad school bible) and last but not least Cameron Swayze (who can paint a picture with words like no one else in the business).  These men were and some still are tops in their field and I am a better writer and journalist because of them.  Grazie tante.