Former CBS Reporter Bob Orr Shares His Insights on Journalism
March 18, 2015
By: Katie Egan
Doing the news and doing it well
Former CBS News anchor Bob Orr didn’t become successful by accident.
He went from disc jockey to local news anchor to “Master of Disaster,” a title he earned after covering a landslide of international and domestic incidents for CBS News throughout a 22-year career with the network.
“I think there’s no shortcuts, it’s just hard work,” he said during a one-on-one interview. “But I think any career is probably similar to this. You build on the success, it gets a little easier, you become a little more accomplished, get a little more confident. It all kind of feeds into it.”
On Wednesday, the 40-year broadcast veteran gave the keynote speech at the 11th annual Free Press Luncheon at Hilton Naples.
The recent Naples transplant’s hour long talk focused on journalistic ethics, speed versus accuracy and counterterrorism.
The media has power, Orr said, to challenge public authority and inform the people.
But “the main thing people need to remember is that information still wins, not speed,” Orr said. “There’s a premium on speed. Everyone wants to be first, everyone wants to have the scoop. And that’s fine. But first only counts if you’re right.”
Orr knows a bit about that. He has won four Emmy Awards and the coveted DuPont award.
In an interview with the Daily News, he offered this advice to young journalists: “Don’t be afraid, take a moment, think it through, make the next phone call, double back on some of the information and really keep after it until you’ve got a narrative that’s in context.”
We’re in an age now of information overload, he said.
When Orr began his career in TV news in 1973, there were no laptops, iPhones or computers.
“Everything was slower. It gave reporters time to think and analyze.”
But now, Twitter drives the news cycle — and smartphones make it a lot easier to stay connected.
Information moves at warp speed; 24/7, Orr said. “No one has time to think.”
“Every reporter lives for the scoop. It’s very important that we don’t fall victim to this time warp speed trap,” he said. “Viewers need to demand more accountability.”
And when it comes to the future of journalism, Orr said he’s not worried. “I think as long as man walks the Earth, they’re going to seek information. So, what journalism is is information. It’s an information game. It’s been vetted and contextualized and put into a package that I can open my paper and read or turn on the tube and watch. So, journalism’s not going anywhere.”
The human need for knowledge, he said, guarantees that there will be someone out there providing it.
“What does change and what changes all the time and what’s impossible to predict is not the message, but the medium.”
During his speech, he also talked about the very important flow of information between the press and government agencies.
“The government is making it increasingly hard to do our job — and that’s the truth,” he said.
“It’s never been more important for reporters to develop credited sources that don’t have to spin an agenda,” he said. “We have to fight for the information the public needs and wants to know.”
One thing Orr wanted listeners to take away from his speech was that, “The terrorism threat we face today is real.” Young kids, he said, think it’s cool to go be a terrorist.
“We really have to hope that we do better in the battle of ideas,” Orr said. “We’re trying to battle an ideology.”
Good thing, he said, we still have the news.
“I think it’s true that the only systematic and sanctioned check on power is the media. We have protection of the first amendment,” Orr said. “We have the privilege of access.”