• Why Mike Wallace mattered
     | April 09,2012

    Journalists of a certain age will tell about their Glory Days of report- ing. In their minds, when they were passionate about what they were covering , feeling invincible, and ideologically superior, they prided themselves in being of the ilk of Woodward and Bernstein. Where reporters and editors get inspiration depends, of course.

    Every journalist wants to believe they are making a difference, whether it is serving as a watchdog, a protector of the public trust, an investigator or a crusader. They want to model themselves after a great journalist or writer.

    My grandfather was a longtime attorney in Barre. He became an attorney because he believed the “little guy” needed protecting much more than the “big guys.” He despised bullies and regularly would put himself between one and someone weaker, either in stature or class. He was an unsuccessful writer, and he spent years trying to find the time to put his battles to words as lessons for generations to come.

    He was thrilled when someone (other than his late wife, a poet) showed an interest in writing. It became twice as sweet when the interest extended to journalism. He pointed to giants like Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Mike Wallace.

    “60 Minutes” was a Sunday night ritual. It was just as routine as church earlier in the day. It was journalism that informed, uncovered injustice and sought answers. As one of the first broadcast news magazines, its format has repeatedly been copied over the decades but never has a show had the same success. For three generations now, “60 Minutes” has been there every Sunday night.

    Much of CBS’s success with “60 Minutes” is attributable to its journalists, but mostly the most deserved praise falls on the shoulders of Wallace and longtime producer Don Hewitt, whose journalism chops date back to the Murrow years.

    So when I saw that Wallace had died yesterday at age 94, I felt a door close.

    And another one open.

    My grandfather and Wallace were about the same age. They were both tough, and I spent much of my adolescence and adult life looking up to both of them. My grandfather gave me the maps of life to allow me to navigate my own path. Wallace gave me the inspiration to find stories that matter to people, whether they are news you need to know, news you can use, or it’s just good, old-fashioned storytelling. Wallace was thorough, thoughtful, tough and trusted. Even in times where “60 Minutes” stumbled, Wallace’s word was both apologetic yet filled with integrity and authority.

    I should be able to point to a handful of grizzled print journalists who I admire. And I do, but they are of my generation. I see now that behind the door of history, today’s giants are doing that work, fighting the good fights for readers across the globe. They are my former colleagues from college and other papers who are now telling stories at The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post, the San Jose Mercury News and dozens of others. Four of my former colleagues from my years at the Concord Monitor have Pulitzer Prizes; and seven of them are Nieman Fellows – a distinguished journalism laurel. And it is not without merit that I am the editor of my hometown newspaper.

    All journalists want to make a difference. They want to believe their work is admired, trusted, coveted. It feeds egos and pushes us on, even when the job feels routine and thankless.

    Mike Wallace will always remind me that journalism makes a difference. His death means the next generation of journalists – with the Internet, tablets, smart phones, blogs, tweets and Facebook – has to carry on the integrity and continue clearing the high bar that Mike Wallace and the other giants have set for us. The new Glory Days are upon us.

    And with that, the stopwatch ticks off the final 10 seconds before fading to black.

    Steven M. Pappas is the editor of The Times Argus.

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