They were some of the best reporters in the history of broadcast journalism: Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, Robert Trout, Charles Collingwood and Douglas Edwards. On the show, blindfolded panelists tried to guess the group’s occupations by asking a series of questions. Here is a video of the show:
Coincidentally, Romenesko linked to a story earlier this week about a new CBS News promo that claims the network invented original reporting on TV. The claim largely rests on the work of these early broadcast journalists and their colleagues.
If we could go back 55 years, perhaps we could ask these journalists
what they think.
Here’s what I think: No one person or network invented original TV reporting. TV news had been slowly evolving since the late 1930s.
Although radio networks had been in existence since the 1920s, large TV networks really didn’t start until 1948 when coaxial cable began connecting major TV markets.
As TV technology advanced, and the number of viewers increased, the lessons of broadcast radio reporting were transferred over to TV news.
A few stations around the country experimented with television programming during the 1930s. Periodically radio announcers would do voice-over work for TV news reports with wire copy and still photographs.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s New York station WNBT (formerly W2XBS) simulcast the Lowell Thomas radio program. The simulcast, titled the “Sunoco News,” was sponsored by the Sun Oil Company. NBC also aired the “Esso Television Reporter” before World War II brought a halt to most television news.
When the war ended in 1945, WNBT broadcast a weekly program called “NBC Tele-Newsreel” (or “NBC Telenews”) that used MGM-Hearst movie newsreel film.
The first regularly scheduled evening network TV news broadcasts began in 1948.
On February 16, 1948, NBC News began broadcasting “NBC Television Newsreel,” the first regularly scheduled evening network TV news program. In 1949 the program became the “Camel News Caravan” with John Cameron Swayze.
One of the “What’s My Line?” journalists, Douglas Edwards, knew
firsthand about the beginning of TV journalism at CBS. As early as 1946 he began working for CBS TV, and he anchored the network’s first regularly scheduled evening newscast, the “CBS Television News,” in August 1948.
But the earliest example of news on CBS TV was during 1941, back when very few people owned TV sets. An experimental CBS television station called WCBW broadcast a 15-minute program called “Richard Hubbell and the News.”
Since most of the “What’s My Line?” journalists worked with Edward R. Murrow during World War Two, they would have given Murrow credit for helping invent broadcast radio reporting. Beginning in 1939, his programs during the bombing of London brought the war to America with a new type of journalism.
If you were watching the ABC network in August 1948, you might have seen their first regular newscast. They called it “News and Views.” H.R. Baukhage and Jim Gibbons served as the program’s anchors.
(Related article: “Early TV Anchors,” Poynter Online, Apr. 4, 2006)
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article got Charles Collingwood’s name wrong.