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Lee Schneider Headshot

The New Walter

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Much has been written and said about the passing of Walter Cronkite. Will there ever be another like him?

I was in a network meeting the other day, and the executive running it was explaining that during the Jurassic Era of television, there were only three networks. His group of young listeners was surprised. "Only three?" With only three networks on the air, Walter, Johnny and Barbara were oracles and earth-shakers. Walter told us that Kennedy and King were murdered. Johnny walked in the footsteps of Allen and Paar. Barbara broke barriers. Different world now. Mostly because of technology. We've lost a lot, but gained links to remind us what Paar and Allen did. We've seen the rise of the citizen journalist.

Citizen journalists, some with zero credentials, perform the most simple and powerful journalism: Show up, look around, tell what you see.

During the Paleozoic Era, when I was an intern with no credentials writing for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I wrote with Bic pens and typed on Selectrics and the best part of the job was showing up and saying, "I'm from the newspaper. Tell me who opened fire first." (Remember, this was Texas.) The only thing I could do was tell a story using black type on white paper - about as basic as basic could be.

News reporting today is like a guy who can't have sex with a gal unless she's wearing high heels and a wig. (No, this is not a confession.) Everybody knows news is tarted up now. Fair enough - to succeed, you have to be fascinating 24/7. Steep slope.

Yet some aren't playing that game. Got a news story you think is worth investigating? You might find the money to do it by posting on Spot.us. The editors at The New York Times say they might publish one about a giant floating patch of garbage in the Pacific -- it's fully funded by donations. There's ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative reporting unit that has delivered some big stories.

Are the only journalists icons like Walter? Somebody with a journalism degree? There's debate about whether bloggers are fake journalists, cutters and pasters really. And how's Twitter's news authority? According to Twitter these people are dead: Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Natalie Portman and Ellen DeGeneres - struck down by tragic accidents. (This just in: they're not dead.)

Citizen journalism isn't perfect. There's something unsettling about the best newsman being a comedian. Bottom line is you can't place absolute faith in journalists anymore. That's why there will be no more Walters like Cronkite. You didn't need to fact check a guy like Walter, you trusted him. Now that everybody's got their own mic, you have to fact check everybody. You need to know their motivations and who's paying them. You have to be your own Walter.