Welcome Yamiche Alcindor, Thanks To Gwen Ifill

Washington Week has been a Friday night staple (or now a Saturday morning DVR viewing) since I was a teenager. Over the decades Public Television consistently has provided this program with top reporters and journalists as they sift through the news of the week and provide analysis and perspective. This weekend a new chapter started for the show with Yamiche Alcindor taking the reins. I am very pleased with the choice for the anchor.

I really gravitated towards Paul Duke who anchored the show when I started watching in my high school years. He would continue for two decades. During those years I was fascinated by Duke for the reason he was substantive but always serene and laid back. People who commanded attention with such a calm demeanor have always appealed to me when it comes to news programming.

Then I simply loved the nearly 16 years that Gwen Ifill took on the role and dived into the issues each week. I just knew there was something smart and steady with her hand on the broadcasts. She became one of the first African American women to preside over a major national political show.  The announcement of her death came to me as I sat in a dentist chair with CNN broadcasting above my head.

She was not just another reporter or journalist I turned to for news.  She was more than a graceful and bright interviewer who added context to the headlines.  What made Ifill special was her presence on television, that even in bad times, made us aware there was a way to think it through and make sense out of what had happened.

America needs ‘stabilizers’ such as she proved to be for decades.  In times of confusion over complex Supreme Court cases, or after savage terrorism she had the ability to pry into the mix of facts and report so a deeper and more seasoned view could be had.  She had a keen sense for getting to the center of the story with her interviews.  And through it all, I just knew that she would be a pure delight off camera.

Now the leading chair at Washington Week features Yamiche Alcindor, a reporter that is fact-based, intelligent, and mindful of the journalism which needs to be done for the changing demographics and power structures in the nation. On her first broadcast, she paid tribute to the guiding hand of Ifill, and it was a most fitting hand in glove approach as the show moves forward.

Friday nights have obviously changed since my years as a teenager in Hancock, or the ones when as a young adult I watched the show in my first apartment. Now I have Saturday morning breakfast and view the broadcast recorded from the previous evening. No matter, however, where or when the show is watched the professional nature of Washington Week has never altered itself.

And so it goes.

Robert Costa Finally Gets Last Word

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In this time of so many technological marvels, it is still  amusing to witness when things do not go as smoothly as desired.  Such as with the closing for the PBS show Washington Week, which aired last night.

As host Robert Costa is interviewing, via satellite, a reporter based in Las Vegas, the time to bring the show to a conclusion neared.  As the reporter waxed on about how the Nevada caucuses will be reported to Democratic Party officials from apps, Costa gently tried to stop the dialogue.  Gently at first, then a bit more robust, not quite stern the next time, but determined.

The reporter clearly did have an earpiece and was able to answer questions, but once she started to impart information she must not have been able to hear what Costa was trying to say in polite tones.  And then louder ones.

It made me aware, again, of how professionals handle those moments when something must happen—such as the ending of a news show.  And how to do it firmly and yet with a smile.  Robert Costa and his group of reporters are a must-see in our home,  as Washington Week has been a routine of mine going back to my years in high school.

We have the ability to talk with others literally around the globe and see them at the same time.  We have the capability.  But stopping them in mid-sentence…..

And so it goes.

Recalling The Reasons We Loved Jim Lehrer

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Jim Lehrer, the retired PBS anchorman who for 36 years gave public television viewers a substantive alternative to network evening news programs with in-depth reporting, interviews, and analysis of world and national affairs has died.  He was 85.  And as I have stated before on this blog, he is a national treasure.

When I was a teenager dinner would be over in our Hancock home, the evening news and the local news would have come to an end.   It would be 6:30 P.M.  Time to change the channel (by walking to the set and manually turning the dial) to Wisconsin Public Television for the half-hour MacNeil/Lehrer Report.  The program devoted itself to one news story each night.  It might be the reason for a major jet crash or diving into the religious turmoil in the Middle East.  The show was informative and so well done with insight and professionalism.  And I learned so much.  It piqued my interest to want to know even more.

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Over the years this blog has mentioned Lehrer on many occasions.  Instead of writing new comments about the man I will let what was posted over time be my way of honoring this reporter which meant so much to so many in our country.

From September 2008.

It is also important to note that the moderator last night, Jim Lehrer, was superb!  He is a national treasure, and PBS can be proud again of sending one of their best to handle the first presidential debate

From October 2012.

There are many respected journalists who could moderate the presidential debates, but few possess the heft and gravitas of Jim Lehrer.  As such, it is appropriate that Lehrer be the moderator of the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney.  It can be easily argued that the first debate is always the most important one.

For decades Lehrer has proven to be media savvy, intellectually curious, and objective about the issues and politicians he interacts with.  There are few faces in broadcast journalism that carry as much credibility as Lehrer does.

From October 2012

I have been watching Jim Lehrer on PBS from the time I was in high school, when the program that is now the NewsHour was only 30-minutes, and was co-anchored with Robert MacNeil.  I can say with all honesty I absolutely love Jim Lehrer, and have the utmost respect for his journalistic capabilities and insight.

I understand many wish some of those things I find so remarkable about Lehrer would have been more on display during the debate.

I would argue for the most part they were.

Many pundits had felt Leherer would demand specifics, and make the debate as informative as possible.  But if one looks at the topics covered, and the amount of facts and figures thrown out from each candidate it is hard to argue that the debate was not substantive.

Many feel the best debate is where the moderator is more a potted plant on the stage, and not a main player.  I am sure Lehrer was intending to be more demanding in getting more topics covered, and more specifics presented for the viewers.

But with the abrasive way Romney ran over the rules and the moderator it is hard to fault Lehrer to the extent many are doing this morning.

Placing blame this morning on Jim Lehrer is not fair.  He is not the person who was supposed to take the fight to Mitt Romney.

In other words, Lehrer was always a professional newsman and reporter.  He summed up his views about his profession in a way that makes us all know there was a solid hand on the steering wheel when he was in the anchor chair.

I have an old-fashioned view that news is not a commodity,” Mr. Lehrer told The American Journalism Review in 2001. “News is information that’s required in a democratic society, and Thomas Jefferson said a democracy is dependent on an informed citizenry. That sounds corny, but I don’t care whether it sounds corny or not. It’s the truth.

Godspeed to one of our nation’s best reporters.

Gwen Ifill Richly Honored With Postal Stamp

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This news is something that we all can be pleased to learn about it today.  Long-time readers may recall my respect for Gwen Ifill as a journalist, and as a classy woman.

Today those reasons underscore why Ifill will be honored with a postal stamp. The stamp features a 2008 photo of Ifill with the words “BLACK HERITAGE” at the top and Ifill’s name at the bottom.  It is the 43rd stamp in the Black Heritage series and one of several new designs that will be issued next year.

Ifill worked at the NewsHour for 17 years, covering eight presidential campaigns and moderating two vice-presidential debates. She was also the moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week.”

She is really missed in these chaotic times.

Big Film, Good Feel, Downton Abbey Movie A Winner

Tonight James and I sat in a Madison movie theater to see an early viewing of a film that is slated to open nationwide in just 24 hours.  Being huge fans of PBS’ Downton Abbey meant we were so looking forward to the movie version of this family, the servants, and the large magnificent home.

The first thing I noticed, and much appreciated, was the crisp writing from Julian Fellowes.  As with the television series, there is no wasted dialogue in the movie.  Each line and every word has meaning and purpose.  That type of writing is hard to do, and harder yet to achieve in a major motion picture.

The epic feel from the director, along with the first lines of the classic musical opening to the summation of the storyline, made me feel good.

Good about the film itself.  And good about the movie-making industry.  Too often movies get a bad wrap for being too youth-centered in simply throw-away work.  Or too violent.  Or too lewd and vulgar.

But with brilliant writing and top-notch acting along with Michael Engler using his skill as a director, the final result is what every person who sat year after year on Sunday nights caught up in the drama of the Crawley family, and those around them were needing.

The downside would be if one had not been captured by the magic of the series on PBS there is little to grasp as the storyline picks up from where it ended, without allowing for newcomers to catch up. But really, where were they when the series was rolling along, anyway, on PBS?

I loved this film very much!

Fiddles Play As Ken Burns Brings Country Music History To PBS

It has been years in the making, and like every other Ken Burns documentary, it has created a lot of buzz.  Or in this case, a lot of yearning to hear the fiddles play.

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What will turn PBS (starting Sept 15th) into many nights of must-see-television is Country Music, Burns’ 16.5 hour series as he presents the origins and meaning of a major musical force in this land.  But such a task will be very hard as getting to the core of the music is almost impossible.  The legends in the field admit as much.

Veteran songwriter Harlan Howard famously asserted that “Country music is three chords and the truth.” In one of many revealing juxtapositions over the course of Burns’ series, critically acclaimed singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell agrees, then points out: “It’s about the truth, even when it’s a big, fat lie.”

Other artists have taken stabs at crystallizing what they do. “Country songs are the dreams of the working man,” Merle Haggard said. Waylon Jennings offered a broadly inclusive outline: “Country music isn’t a guitar, it isn’t a banjo, it isn’t a melody, it isn’t a lyric. It’s a feeling.”

All my life I have had deep regard for, and interest in classic country music.  The contemporary country sound has lost its soul and aims more for mass marketing than hitting the chords of its golden years.  Burns will try to show the path that today’s singers have taken, and it will be interesting to see if a credible line can be drawn from  Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff to the likes of Lee Brice.

Madison, Wisconsin will have a special reason to pay heed to this series as country music historian Bill Malone is front and center as the musical story is revealed through film.  Last year a good friend gave me a copy of Malone’s masterpiece, Country Music U.S.A.  He writes with depth and passion about the music which his mother introduced him to as a child.

There will also be background added for this series with Ketch Secor who has provided a traditional sound with Old Crow Medicine Show.  His care for the music, and the early influences, is proven with each performance around the country.  I much respect what he does.

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I will be watching the series from my home on the isthmus, but the first night my heart will be in Nashville as Opry Entertainment and Belmont University will celebrate by screening part one from the hallowed Grand Ole Opry stage.  That is most appropriate to have such a setting at the Mother Church Of Country Music.

Since the start of this blog in 2006 I have posted about country music, the Grand Ole Opry, WSM, and the many performers I have had the chance to meet and chat with after a show.  My guitar is one of my prized belongings which carries more than their autographs, as it contains priceless memories.   From George Jones to ‘Little’ Jimmy Dickens there is a story to be told with each one.

How they came to fame and what their music tells us about the nation and the industry is part of what Burns will allow us to better understand on PBS.

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The Plight Of Dayton, Ohio

Last night Frontline on PBS aired a most insightful, and at times, dramatic film. I hope you either saw it or will watch it online.
 
In the decade since the Great Recession, many American cities and towns have bounced back. But for some small and mid-size cities that were once hubs for innovation and manufacturing, economic recovery has remained elusive.
 
The show was an in-depth look at one such city, Dayton, Ohio, as its citizens continue to fight for economic revitalization 10 years after the financial crisis.
 
Gripping and powerful, the documentary chronicles the lives and struggles of Dayton’s working poor as they chase the American dream in the new American economy. Dayton was once the epitome of industry and ingenuity in the American heartland — “the Silicon Valley of its age,” author Mark Bernstein tells the documentary team, a birthplace of aviation and a center of the automotive industry.
 
Although Dayton’s job market has recently seen a resurgence, the jobs coming back to the city aren’t the high-wage jobs that used be there — and the poverty rate in Dayton has reached 34.5 percent, or nearly three times the poverty rate nationwide.
 
“The issue in Dayton is not how many people are employed, or how many people are unemployed; It’s, ‘What kind of jobs do they have?’” says Paul Leonard, the city’s former mayor.
 
The film shows, in cities like Dayton — where many businesses that once employed thousands of people have shut down or moved elsewhere — part-time, low-wage work rather than full-time work with benefits has often become the new normal. And as a result, many families struggle to survive.
 
“The majority of people who come to our pantry work,” says Sunnie Lain, who helps to run one of the city’s food pantries. And yet, she says, “we’ve got families watering down soup, and moms trying to figure out how to make a box of mac and cheese last two days.”

Christiane Amanpour Takes Over-Night On PBS

Loved Charlie Rose for long-form conversations and deep insights.  Have long loved Christiane Amanpour for a worldly perspective and shape mind.

On Monday night, PBS will air the first episode of its replacement for “Charlie Rose,” the nightly interview program that came to a sudden end nearly 10 months ago after its eponymous host was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women.

Hosted by Christiane Amanpour, the new program, “Amanpour & Company,” will share the conversational spirit of the old one — but nothing else.

The plan calls for three interview-based segments each night, with Ms. Amanpour on camera for two of them and a contributor taking the third. “Amanpour & Company” will also air abroad, on CNN International.

Last week, Ms. Amanpour and her team gathered to tape a segment for the first episode. The brightly lit set dispelled any notion that the show would resemble the one it replaces.

Behind Ms. Amanpour was a graphic of the continental United States punctuated by flickering lights, a display that would be familiar to any CNN viewer. As on her CNN International program, Ms. Amanpour will sometimes conduct interviews via satellite. And the screen will include graphics in the distinctive CNN font.