One of the many upheavals created by World War II was the method of news reporting. In May 1939, for example, Variety carried a story about an exciting system that allowed newsreel footage from Europe to be seen in the U.S. only three days after it was filmed.
News from overseas was urgent during those years, when transatlantic radio broadcasts were in their infancy. But in January 1946, esteemed journalist Edward R. Murrow — a CBS VP at that point, after serving as the network’s European director — reminded in a Variety guest column that global broadcasting “is going to be a tougher job than it was during the war.”
Under the headline “International Broadcasting’s Difficult Postwar Job,” Murrow wrote that radio reporters needed to present big-picture stories about rebuilding that would require a knowledge of history and economics. And, he added, journalists “will have to report the impact of American decisions upon European countries” in the postwar treaties, without worrying about radio ratings.
The challenge was for the radio reporter “to say what he sees and to say it in terms that will be intelligible to people who have never left home.” He asked: How do you convey the level of destruction and suffering in Europe, for example, to Americans who were never under attack?
Murrow hoped American listeners had gotten beyond the novelty of “multiple pickups from half a dozen capitals,” so impressive because it had been so new. “Such broadcasts in future should have value only because the individual who is broadcasting has something to say and a way of saying it which cannot be conveyed in print.”
Murrow wrote that he recently told Variety’s editor [Abel Green], “I am convinced that the radio reporter has a greater responsibility, and indeed a higher privilege, than does the man who is dealing with print. With the broadcaster there is something like one-twenty-fifth of a second from the time he says something in Cairo until it comes out of a loudspeaker in San Francisco. There is no rewrite man” who can clean up his copy. If radio is to succeed in overseas reporting, Murrow wrote, it must have “a group of reporters who possess balance and self-discipline in excess of that normally required of men who are filing by cable for print.”
Note the word “men.” At that time, though there were women reporters at every newspaper, including Variety, but they were rarely war correspondents overseas.
Murrow said postwar broadcasters would go beyond hard news into areas of medicine, health, labor, schools and religion; American listeners must be “anxious to hear what other countries are doing about these matters.” It was a two-way street, and listeners in other countries needed to learn what America stood for.
“I suppose the real test of international broadcasting, so far as the American listener is concerned, will be whether or not people listen to the broadcasts that come from abroad.” He felt international broadcasters needed “to make it clear that what happens over here must inevitably affect the lives and the well-being of people at home, just as Spain and Munich and Dunkirk did.”
“Radio reflects the political, social and economic climate in which it exists. Radio didn’t make war and it can’t make peace. But it can offer an international platform for those who desire to debate current issues and controversies.”
“Transatlantic broadcasting is very young indeed,” he wrote. “I have a feeling that this aspect of radio activity is about to become a serious business.”