If you want to know the key to how television news is supposed to work, I offer you the example of Michael Rosenbaum, for decades a dear friend and colleague who lost his battle with brain cancer this past Thursday. He had just turned 64, still so young with so much to offer.
Mike was what you call in the news business a producer. It's a general job title that is difficult to explain to those outside of the industry, and even for those of us inside it. A producer basically does what it takes, often whatever it may take, to get the work done, to get the story told. And Mike was one of the best. Whether stateside or overseas, particularly during his time in the volatile Middle East, Mike knew how to navigate through minefields both literal and rhetorical.
As a correspondent, you are dependent on producers like Mike to be partners in reporting. Trust is essential and often they have to do much of the legwork on their own. When my calendar showed I would be working with Mike, I knew I would be arriving in good hands. Boy was it fun to hole up in some hotel dive bar in a place not in any tourist guide book, order an adult beverage (or several), and say, "Ok Mike, how are we going to get this story told?" We would bat around ideas late into the evening, and then the conversation would often drift to other topics. Mike was always reading something interesting, always thinking about something you hadn't thought of.
The problem with too much of journalism today is that it is all about snap judgements, quick hits and then instant analysis. Mike could size up a room, a crime scene, or a shifting political landscape quicker than most. Yet he was, by nature, hesitant to jump to conclusions until he had the facts. He was careful. He was a responsible reporter, and that's my definition of a true professional.
Journalism is a field that can often breed jealousy and suspicion. You don't want others to steal your scoop. Your name is your reputation, and there's usually only one name on the byline, so to speak. Yet Mike was built differently. I wish every young man and woman in journalism today could have had the opportunities to ride along with Mike on a story. Thankfully, many young people at CBS News had that chance. He loved giving others a shot to succeed and often was much more generous with credit than he needed to be. Many people I work with now on my news magazine program Dan Rather Reports on HDNet graduated from the Michael Rosenbaum school of journalism. And it was a school not taught in any ivy-covered classroom but often in some tense negotiation with a reluctant interview subject in a difficult and dangerous dateline.
I have known that Mike was dying for quite a while. You try to make peace as best you can. You try to rationalize that he was so disabled by his disease that his life had really ended a while ago. But to know that the world now exists without Michael Rosenbaum is to become suddenly aware of the void.
I have often thought that journalism is as much about the process as the product. It's about going out there each day and trying to get the story right, and then building upon what you have done. It is rare that we go back and read or watch old news reports. They are so often, by definition, dated. Yet in their aggregate they add up to a writing of history. And that's how I would like to remember my friend Mike. He may have produced his last story, but his example of living life in pursuit of our better selves will hopefully live on in so many of us. And the next time we go out to report, we will think of him, and he will be producing right there alongside us. And hopefully we will do him proud.
Good-bye Mike. And God bless.