The visualizers: a reassessment of television's news pioneers

Access full-text files




Conway, Mike, 1961-

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The roots of today’s television newscast can be traced back to a small group of people at CBS-TV in New York in the 1940s. But because of the power of radio and the dismissive attitude of the radio journalists at the time, the birth and early development of television news has been mostly ignored. When Edward R. Murrow and other radio correspondents came back from World War II, they avoided or ridiculed the new medium. Therefore, the task of creating a television newscast fell to a disparate group of people, including a photo caption editor, a network messenger boy, a foreign-language translator, a Broadway sound engineer, a still photographer, and a newsreel cameraman. Instead of mimicking other media, the CBS-TV crew developed a new template for news. In the 1940s, these people were developing processes, negotiating technology, making content decisions, and structuring a newscast format which would be in place when millions of Americans turned down their radios and switched on their new video receivers. This project focuses on the beginning and development of news at CBS-TV in New York from 1941 through 1948. Through oral history interviews, combined with research into personal archives, government records, company documents, newspapers, and trade publications, a more complete picture of this important era of journalism emerges. Before Pearl Harbor, CBS-TV devoted more time to news in the afternoon/early evening hours than it does to this day. In the 1940s, television news was not dominated by an anchor. Instead, CBS spent years experimenting with the role of the commentator on television and considered the newscaster just one of many important newscast elements. Their arguments and experiments concerning non-visual news, the importance of the newscaster, story selection and length, and television’s strength and weaknesses are still being debated to this day. Because of limited technology, The CBS-TV news people considered stories for news value, not on the availability of film. As a result, visualization techniques such as maps, animated graphics, artwork, interviews, and film became integral parts of the newscasts. As a whole, the various methods of visualizing the stories laid the foundation for the television newscasts we watch today. For those efforts, 1940s CBS-TV news people are television news’ first “visualizers.”