BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. [WORLD NEWS TONIGHT THEME MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News world headquarters in New York, this is World News Tonight with Peter Jennings.
BOB GARFIELD: Nearly a week has passed since the passing of Peter Jennings, and in that time his memory has ben duly honored. He was suave, he was cool, he was exacting, unflinching, indefatigable, and in moment of genuine drama, genuinely remarkable.
BOB GARFIELD: From the fall of the Berlin Wall:
PETER JENNINGS: Someone actually reached up and handed me a small piece of the Wall that they had chipped away. It's those small moments that make up this extraordinary day.
BOB GARFIELD: To the destruction of the Twin Towers:
PETER JENNINGS: It is a tragedy that has revealed itself before the eyes of millions of people in the country watching on television.
BOB GARFIELD: To the failure of his own flesh:
PETER JENNINGS: As some of you now know, I have learned in the last couple of days that I have lung cancer. I will continue to do the broadcast. On good days--my voice will not always be like this.
BOB GARFIELD: But after April 5th, we heard his voice no longer. On that evening, ABC News lost its anchor, and so did tens of millions of viewers who depended on Jennings, not just for the daily report, but for all that the iconic American news superstar represents.
In the worst of national moments the anchorman's authority and celebrity convert to trust, imposing a sense of calm in the midst of chaos. War, terror, assassinations, space catastrophe--that's when an anchor takes hold, keeping the society moored to the sandy bottom.
So it was fascinating in the past week to note the obituary within the obituary. Many of Peter Jenning's eulogists, from the Dallas Morning News to the Philadelphia Daily News, to the New York Times seemed eager to bury with him the role of anchorman altogether.
Yes, Jennings' death, hard upon Tom Brokaw's retirement and Dan Rather's ignominious reassignment, changed the face of dinner hour. Yes, declining ratings suggest that they were the last generation of press card demigods. And yes, the days of broadcast news and broadcasting itself are numbered.
But, to coin a phrase, let's not be too quick to kill the messenger, because they still have work to do. [CBS EVENING NEWS THEME MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: This is the CBS Evening News, with Bob Schieffer. [NBC NIGHTLY NEWS THEME MUSIC]
ANNOUNCER: This is NBC Nightly News, with Brian Williams.
BOB GARFIELD: Not to mention Wolf Blitzer, Britt Hume, Elizabeth Vargas, Lester Holt and scores of others. Shall we assume that as viewers migrate from the airwaves to cable to the Internet, that the human connection will be made obsolete, that news consumers will stop relying on favorites? Surely the Net will expand our options and fragment audiences, but especially when crisis triggers that fearsome sensation of being cast adrift, what are the ch ances that we will suddenly forsake the security of an anchor? [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
CHARLES GIBSON: Good evening. I'm Charles Gibson. And, as Peter would say, the news goes on.
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, it does. And so does the mysterious power of familiarity. Google News and Wikipedia are all well and good, but the medium is more than the message. It's the messenger, too.