WIUM Tristates Public Radio

A Look Back at a Very Different Time for Broadcast Journalism

Nov 22, 2017

Wednesday, November 22 marked the 54th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  So the Shop Talk panelists stepped back in history to take a look at that weekend in 1963 from a journalist's perspective. 

Panelist Rich Egger said one of the really odd moments was when the suspect in the crime, Lee Harvey Oswald, was brought out for a news conference some 12 hours after the assassination.  He can’t imagine any police agency today giving reporters that kind of access to an accused presidential assassin -- or anyone arrested for just about any crime.

Egger said the previous three presidential assassinations happened before radio and television existed. Americans in November, 1963 watched and listened to history happening in real time, something they never experienced before.

Panelist Will Buss said TV journalism was still fairly new at the time and the TV networks had only recently expanded their evening newscasts from 15 minutes to 30.  He said journalists were still learning about and experimenting with television news coverage and they had to think on their feet that weekend.

Buss commended Walter Cronkite for holding off on announcing the president’s death until he was certain he had official confirmation.

Panelist Jasmine Crighton agreed that newsrooms did not seemed prepared for an emergency and had to figure out on the fly how to cover it.  She recently attended a convention in Dallas that included a presentation by Bob Schieffer and Hugh Aynesworth, both of whom covered the assassination.  Aynesworth said it was a different time and the events of that weekend need to be viewed in that way – what might seem odd to us today didn’t seem so strange at the time.

Crighton believes most Americans today would have no problem with the genuine emotion Walter Cronkite displayed on the air upon learning of Kennedy’s death.  She said many broadcast reporters who covered 9/11 also reacted with emotion on the air while events unfolded.

Jasmine Crighton is News Director of NEWS3 at Western Illinois University and Will Buss is the Director of Student Publications at WIU.