When television (see entry under 1940s—TV and Radio in volume 2) was in its infancy during the late 1940s and early 1950s, news reports became an important part of daily programming. The major networks set aside a time period each evening to broadcast national and international news. Local stations did the same for local events. As such programs evolved, they consisted of field reporters passing along information on specific events, along with accompanying visual images on 16-millimeter (16-mm) film. Holding each program together was the news anchor, a constant presence throughout the broadcast. The anchor described news events and introduced field journalists and news clips. The most successful anchors are recognized for their calming, steadying presence, particularly in times of crisis.
The best news anchors have strong journalism backgrounds. For nineteen years beginning in 1962, Walter Cronkite (1916–) anchored the evening news on CBS. Cronkite brought to the job flawless journalistic credentials; he had started out as a wire-service correspondent during World War II (1939–45). Fabled for his reassuring demeanor, Cronkite came to be known as "Uncle Walter" and "The Most Trusted Man in America." He signed off each broadcast by stating, "And that's the way it is." Few questioned the truthfulness of this declaration. When appropriate, Cronkite injected emotion into his broadcast. He did so in times of tragedy and triumph, whether tearfully announcing the death by assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) or adding cheerleader-style comments while anchoring coverage of America's space program. On occasion, an anchor of Cronkite's stature may become a news-maker. A trip to Vietnam during the 1968 Tet offensive (a massive surprise attack on South Vietnam by North Vietnamese fighters) helped turn Cronkite against the Vietnam War (1954–1975). During the final moments of a CBS documentary, he called for an end to the fighting—an action that helped turn millions of mainstream Americans against the war.
Cronkite's most direct competition came from NBC, which between 1956 and 1970 featured a pair of popular anchors. Chet Huntley (1911–1974) broadcast from New York, while David Brinkley (1920–) was situated in Washington, D.C. Both were veteran journalists. Huntley's sober, deliberate style played off of Brinkley's low-key wit to make their show a consistent ratings winner—usually besting Cronkite's broadcasts during the 1960s. They, too, had their own special way of ending each broadcast, with each declaring, "Goodnight, Chet . . . Good-night, David . . . and Goodnight for NBC News."
Cronkite, Huntley, and Brinkley were not the lone pioneer anchors. John Cameron Swayze (1906–1995), who began on NBC-TV in 1948, was the medium's first superstar anchor. However, Swayze, who opened his broadcasts with a cheerful "And a good evening to you" and closed them with "Glad we could be together," was more a news reader than a journalist. In 1976, Barbara Walters (1931–) became the first woman news anchor, working beside Harry Reasoner (1923–1991) on ABC. Two years later, ABC's Max Robinson (1939–1988) became the first African American network news anchor. Among the highest-profile contemporary anchors were CNN's Bernard Shaw (1940–), who retired in early 2001, ABC's Peter Jennings (1938–), CBS's Dan Rather (1931–), and NBC's Tom Brokaw (1940–).
For More Information
Brinkley, David. Eleven Presidents, Four Wars, Twenty-Two Political Conventions, One Moon Landing, Three Assassinations, Two Thousand Weeks of News and Other Stuff on Television, and Eighteen Years of Growing Up in North Carolina. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
Brinkley, David. Everyone Is Entitled to My Opinion. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.
Cronkite, Walter. A Reporter's Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.
Frank, Reuven. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of NetworkNews. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
Goldberg, Robert, and Gerald Jay Goldberg. Anchors: Brokaw, Jennings,Rather and the Evening News. Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1990.
Matusow, Barbara. The Evening News: The Making of the Network NewsAnchor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.