Tick… tick… tick…

I awakened this morning to the news about Don Hewitt, the pioneering newsman who passed away today at the age of 86.

Although most of Hewitt’s obituaries will lead with the fact that he created 60 Minutes — the show that continues to define investigative reporting, for better or worse — that’s really just the tip of Hewitt’s iceberg of influence. From his days as a CBS News producer in the earliest days of network television, Hewitt was a pivotal figure in shaping broadcast journalism as we know it — not merely the way the news is presented on TV, but how we think about the news we receive via that medium.

Back in the days when I thought I wanted to be a broadcast journalist — somewhere at the bottom of my underwear drawer lies a university degree that attests to that long-evaporated ambition — Don Hewitt was one of my heroes. It’s been sad in recent years to see the quagmire that TV journalism has become in this era of TMZ and FOX News. I’m sure that Hewitt looked at a lot of what passes for news these days — even on the network for which he toiled for more than five decades — and just shook his head in disbelief.

That’s not to say that Hewitt himself was above stunt journalism. Like much else in TV news, he pretty much invented it. Hewitt’s genius was in understanding that to cut through on the “cool” medium of television — if I can get all Marshall McLuhan for just a moment — news stories needed to be direct, personal, and in the viewer’s face. Certainly, the confrontational style of 60 Minutes reflected that.

Thanks, Don, for all the great stories.

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