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Heat and Light by Mike Wallace
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Aug 03, 2010

really liked it
Read in August, 2010

It comes as no secret to web readers that the news media is going through the greatest revolution since the days of William Randolph Hearst. Newspapers, like Hearst’s, are trimming back or going under entirely, while cable news and the internet have dismantled the 24 hour news cycle and put a strain on much of its credibility. Who better than seven decade reporter, Mike Wallace, to give us insight into where news journalism has been and where it is going?

“Heat & Light: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists” written by Wallace and his former CBS News associate and Fordham professor Beth Knobel, serves both as an instruction manual for a new crop of aspiring journalists as well as shedding light on the myriad of processes involved in bringing a story to market. Journalistic methodologies – from finding stories, to fact-checking, to interview techniques – are presented from both the authors’ years of experience as well as the additional expertise of many of their friends and associates in the field. (60 Minutes’ Scott Pelley, veteran reporter Marvin Kalb and others lend a host of personal examples, to illustrate what makes their reporting unique.)

Historical examples from Vietnam era reporting to current day stories of the Obama White House and even Michael Jackson’s death are covered from the angles of style, newsworthiness, accuracy and more. Outlets like Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, msnbc and the blogosphere are explored for their reliance on ‘opinion journalism’ vs hard news as well as the format and economics of such ‘news’ operations. (Opinion being less costly and therefore more profitable than traditional hard news reporting.)

While the book is a great look into the dynamics of various news operations (from print to radio to television and the web), its primary function is as an essential text for young journalism students who need information on style, form and ethics, as well as learning the importance of journalism in society and how to best find and present a story worth telling. With the recent passing of giants like Cronkite, Don Hewitt and Daniel Schorr, Wallace stands as one of the last of the breed of Murrow style journalists – reporters who got to the real nitty-gritty of a story without regard to ratings (thank you Mr. Paley!) or offense. With the media’s continued drift towards ‘info-tainment’ that too often passes for news, his decision to impart his many decades of wisdom on the subject is a priceless gift for all.
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