Saturday, July 28, 2007

New Technology Helping Rather Deliver Old-Fashioned TV Journalism

New Technology Helping Rather Deliver Old-Fashioned TV Journalism

At his new workplace, HDNet, they’ve dubbed him “digital Dan.”

“Let me say that that’s said with a laugh,” explains Dan Rather. “Personally or professionally, I am not Mr. Cutting Edge new technology.”

In fact, he’s very much the same Rather who spent almost a quarter-century anchoring “The CBS Evening News.” His high-definition “Dan Rather Reports” - airing at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, with multiple repeats - resemble the old CBS reports that once aired as prime-time specials.

The pictures on HDNet are dramatically sharper - but they illustrate bits of classic TV journalism.

“We’re trying to do something new, but insofar as we have a model, ‘See It Now,’ which was the breakthrough Ed Murrow series in ’50s, is the model in my own head.”

That show opened by testing the limits of early TV technology, showing live pictures from both coasts of the continental United States.

But there’s a danger of allowing technology to overrule journalism.

“When we can, we want to leverage the advantage of the better picture,” he says. “It does not dictate the content.”

He cites a recent story on the Zapatista movement in Mexico and one of its leaders.

“The main impetus for going was the opportunity to interview him,” he says. “Once we got past that, we said, ‘Look, it has the added advantage of nobody but nobody has seen ever this part of the world in top-quality, high-definition television, and that will be an added bonus.’ ”

The first measure of the quality of the show’s reporting is an Emmy nomination last week for an episode of “Dan Rather Reports.”

The former network anchor still finds himself thrust into controversy now and again. Last month, his suggestion that changes in his old newscast were an attempt to “tart it up” led some to see it as a rip on his successor, Katie Couric.

Not so, says Rather.

“I think any thinking, well-intentioned person understood that I was talking about journalism as a whole,” he says. “I also said what people inside and outside CBS News had said about the beginning of the new effort, and, indeed, what Les Moonves himself said, that in the beginning they tried to soften it up.

“Now, they’re trying to do better and, in some ways, they are doing better.”

You can hear the full conversation in Inside TV & Radio’s latest podcast, at He shares his views on coverage of the 2008 presidential race, and the power of the Internet.

And if you see somebody around town today who looks likes the former CBS anchor, it’s probably him. Rather’s in town to speak to the annual meeting of Northwestern Mutual representatives.

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