Tim Russert left America a better place

As I’ve tried to go about my routine Saturday errands and chores, I find myself gravitating to television’s coverage of Tim Russert’s death. Politicians who trembled at the thought of going on Meet the Press stumbled all over themselves to issue news releases and even to appear on broadcasts to mourn the loss of a worthy foe. Competing news agencies are joining in the chorus, singing praises about the professional and personal integrity of this man.

What a rare occasion, indeed, for a print journalist to praise a broadcast journalist, as does Howard Kurtz, famed Washington Post media columnist.

Recently, my friend Kathy and I saw one of the famed white boards Russet used during the 2000 presidential election. It’s in the Newseum. Russert is on the board of trustees of the museum and learning center honoring the first amendment, journalism, and those who practice the craft.

The Newseum in late April of this year was celebrating the 100th birthday of what many consider to have been “the last great journalist” and the first to effectively use broadcasting to deliver news to Americans. I remember wondering who the Edward R. Murrow of the 21st Century would be. It’s still too early — the loss is still too fresh — but perhaps Russert has been the standard-bearer leading Americans into a new knowledge age.

Isn’t it interesting that many Americans seem to feel the loss, too? In this age of competing media and fragmented audience, it’s more difficult now for any journalist to command name recognition and respect all at the same time.

Last October, I attended the Public Relations Society of America’s annual conference in Philadelphia. Russert was a keynote speaker.

My notes from his speech unlock the secrets to his, well…I hate to use the word “popularity.” He was more than that. He was respected and trusted. I guess the notes unlock some of the reasons why our nation feels such a loss.

Throughout the next couple of days, I’ll post a few pull-quotes from that October 2007 speech here, and I will pray that, as Americans, we insist on embracing and practicing some of the tenets Tim Russert leaves behind — many of which he communicated to professional public relations practitioners a few months ago.

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