Observations on the Road to...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Peter Jennings: A Reporter's Life

Almost three years ago was when Peter Jennings died, and ABC aired Peter Jennings: Reporter just a few days following Jennings’ death. I wasn’t able to see it as it aired, so I recorded it on my TiVo. When I had the time to try to watch the program sometime afterwards I had to turn the television off because I was crying so much, I couldn’t watch any further. So up until late last fall–early winter, that program stayed on my TiVo’s “Now Playing List.” That is until I goofed and the program was erased to record something else. I don’t even remember exactly what other program it was being recorded. The Peter Jennings special that had remained in my TiVo box was no more, and I hadn’t ever actually watched it.

It was also around that time that I kept seeing a book on Jennings, Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life, in bookstores. It seemed like something I was interested in getting, and told some family members, and even made the book a part of my Christmas List.

Sure enough, my sister and her husband got the book for me for Christmas. It took a while to finally find the time to start reading it, but I finally finished it almost three weeks ago.

I thought if I couldn’t get through watching the television program, maybe I could at least get through reading the book. I was kind of right. I had tears rolling down my face as I read through some parts of the end of the book.

In the book, his family, friends, and colleagues recount Jennings’ life and career as a reporter. The reflections made were either taken from transcripts from the ABC special or from Jennings’ memorial service.

What I have always like about Jennings was that his voice commanded your attention. But it was also one in which you didn’t feel threatened by or obligated to do anything, except listen. Of the three: Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather, I’d say that my father probably watched Jennings the most. And by de facto, me as well, However, that is all I can remember from my younger days. I can’t think of a more lasting memory of ever watching a broadcast by Jennings. I mean I vaguely can recall watching Jennings’ millennium broadcast, but all I can remember about that broadcast was him “throwing it out” to a Neil Diamond performance somewhere in Colorado. I know the man spent and ungodly amount of time in front of the camera at the anchor desk not only for the millennium broadcast, but also for 9/11 too. But after coming home from school that afternoon on 9/11, I vaguely remember watching anything on the television. Yet, that’s mostly because I honestly could not keep watching the same damn thing over and over again on the news.

While reading this book, I kind of re-realized why I have such an affinity for journalism, and why I had such a respect for Jennings himself. Among other things, that manner of respect he commanded and gave, the curiosity, the doggedness to pursue the truth about a subject, to talk to people from across the world, and giving them their chance to tell their stories.

I have an ambition to be a writer of fiction, in numerous mediums, but I think if the ball had bounced in a number of different ways, I could just as easily decided to become a journalist. I say that as I’ve reached senior citizen status. Hell, I’m only 23, and yes, I realize I can just as easily switch gears, and still do the journalism thing. But I’ll stick with writing stuff of fiction.

Peter Jennings: A Reporter’s Life is a book about a newsman that was unlike any other. The book delves into Jennings’ home in Canada, his first go-round as anchor for ABC at age 26, his seasoning as a foreign correspondent for ABC, World News Tonight, everything in between, and so on.

Here’s an excerpt from Bill Blakemore, who was teaching in Beirut before Jennings recruited him as his soundman:



He always made the point: “Don’t stand like you’re in front of a stage set. Touch the surroundings where you are. Bring it alive so that this two-dimensional medium we work in is one in which people can imagine being there and touching it.” So he did one on-camera from the back of an elephant. Another one about overpopulation – he just gathered some Indian street kids around him. He told the cameraman, “Start rolling.” The kids were snapping their fingers. Peter turned to the camera and said, while snapping his fingers, “This is a game, but it’s telling us something: every time you click your fingers, another child is born in India.”

1 comment:

DavePress said...

yeah man, just not many reporter's like him anymore. Very sad.