I grew up watching the news every night with my parents. Before the arrival of HDTV rendered my mom’s old TV radio obsolete, we would listen to the local news as we sat at the dinner table. When we were done we moved to the family room to watch World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. I was that nightly ritual, plus a natural curiosity for current events, that got me into the news business in the first place.
It was really Peter Jennings who in my mind defined what broadcast journalism should be. His newscasts were filled with in-depth reporting, global perspective, and a slew of veteran correspondents; he set the tone for the entire news division. I knew things would change when he died – they would have at some point anyway – but in the last few years the transformation has been dramatic. GMA has always been on the lighter side, but now during many segments you can barely tell it’s supposed to be a news show. World News has also lost a lot of the hard news that it used to be known for.
It’s a business, and I get that. I’m sure after Peter died, executives saw the chance to take the product in a new direction. They must have seen the opportunity to boost ratings and revenue. And they did. After years in second place, GMA closed the gap with Today. Demos for World News are up too. But a lot of times that came at the expense of hard-hitting journalism.
That was not the case this past week. While watching Thursday’s special report on the Malaysia Airlines shot down over Ukraine I recognized signs of the ABC News of old. It was no frills, no hype old-fashioned journalism with compelling images and on the ground reporting from the crash site. All of that was backed up by the seasoned reporters and consultants who were there when Peter was. People like global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz, chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, aviation consultant John Nance, and national security expert Richard Clarke. It was a nice reminder that the old news team is still there. Hopefully we will start seeing more coverage like that when David Muir moves to the anchor desk full-time this fall.