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“Jennings Ushered A New Era of Anchors,” says Levit  

Beneath the media buzz celebrating the life of Peter Jennings (1938-2005) is the murmur describing how news reporting isn’t what it used to be. “The focus of newscasting has shifted—from personal credibility, journalism and non-advocacy—to aesthetics, production value and ratings,” according to Partners & Levit Advertising’s managing partner, Mark Levit.

While Jennings was known as the face of ABC and delivering breaking stories including over 60 hours of airtime following the September 11th attacks, he was much more ambitious in his youth. As a foreign correspondent covering the hostage situation at the Munich Olympics in 1972 and becoming an expert on the Middle East, Jennings was known by his colleagues for obsessing over detail to get the story right.

Jennings’ predecessors include Edward R. Murrow, who received unprecedented fame as a broadcast journalist, boasting nine Emmys and even a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Walter Cronkite established the norm in separating reporting and advocacy, and shaped foreign relations during an interview in 1977 with the Egyptian President Sadat, paving the way for the Israeli-Egyptian Peace treaty and Camp David accords. “Broadcast journalists with conviction for accurate reporting have become few and far between,” said Levit.

The latter half of Jennings’ career was witness to the changing face of broadcast news. News segments were shortened to make way for new features such as health, money matters and tabloid gossip. This was largely due to the fact that networks demanded their news divisions be profit-driven to maximize shareholder value. Prior to that, network news was a public service.

“Even major network news can’t defy our customer-driven economy. If viewers want coverage of the annual dog show instead reports on the crisis in Nigeria, viewers get what they want,” Levit added.

The bottom line is anchors that serve aesthetic purposes now simply read the news, unlike the Walter Cronkites, Edward R. Murrows or Peter Jennings. As the faces of their networks, the new generation must strive to achieve the same credibility as the aforementioned; their networks and advertisers depend on it. “The big networks such as NBC, ABC and CBS, rely on the integrity and continuity of broadcast journalists like Jennings to keep viewers loyal,” concluded Levit.

Partners & Levit Inc. is an aggressive New York advertising agency.  Clients include UnitedHealth Group, GE Commercial Finance, and Procter & Gamble. The agency’s heritage dates from 1981. For more information about Partners & Levit, visit www.partnerslevit.com or call 212-696-1200.