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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Brit Hume Brings the Mississippi into Focus

November 28, 2008

Television news is changing, and reporters who got their start at small community daily newspapers where they toiled for years in near obscurity learning their craft are becoming a thing of the past.

I especially took note of this when my friend Brit Hume recently announced he will be stepping down next year as Managing Editor of the Fox News Channel and also as anchor of Special Report seen nightly on Fox.

Brit leaves Special Report at the top of his game and with soaring viewer ratings that lead the cable news pack in its time slot.

He plans to remain a panelist on Fox News Sunday hosted by Chris Wallace where he gives us his opinion on the political news each week - and that’s good news for his fans. I’m told he’ll give the network about 100 days of his time next year - including stints at high-profile political events.

Hopefully his new schedule will provide him with more time to hone his golf game and enjoy other things in life – as well as give him more time with his wife, Kim, who also retired from Fox News a few years ago.

As television legends like Brit leave the daily network grind, it does remind us that networks are no longer hiring their news talent from the ranks of former newspaper reporters. Like many anchors of his day, Brit learned the trade as a newspaper reporter - first at The Hartford (Conn.) Times - and later at United Press International and The Baltimore Sun.

There’s an old adage in the newspaper business, "once a reporter - always a reporter," referring to the innate abilities a journalist develops while working the news beat on the ground. 

It’s the ability to cultivate deep, trusted, and long-term news sources, to accurately separate fact from fiction, and to put the elements of fast-breaking news into a logical, orderly, and consistent story for the reader. And it must be done in such a way that the reader will have a clear understanding of the who, what, where, when, and why by the end of the article, which is no easy feat.

The ability to tell the day’s story in logical detail grows from the reporter’s covering hundreds of local news stories and talking with scores of individuals who make up the paper’s circulation. But this skill is eventually transferred as the reporter begins to cover bigger and more significant news stories and ultimately moves on to larger publications – or, in some cases, television.

This is a phenomenon in the work and personality of Brit Hume – and might help explain why he has been so well respected and accepted by viewers – both liberal and conservative. He connects famously with people of all stripes and appreciates the subtle things in everyday life that move and affect us all. He is fascinated by the joys and atmospherics of the small town, all the while at ease in the halls of Congress or at the White House.

I well remember receiving a call from Brit earlier this summer when he was in Minneapolis reporting on the Republican National Convention. It was early in the morning and no doubt he was enjoying a bit of down time and his first cup of coffee.

But on his mind from his Minneapolis hotel room that morning was sharing his thoughts about what lay beyond his high-story window. He saw the distant turns of the Mississippi River - and reflected on the small towns and communities that hugged the river along the way.

Brit articulated with reverence and understanding the daily activities that were going on in those towns, and he simply wanted to reach out and share his impressions at that moment. It reminded him of the places we had visited on our golf outings in out-of-the-way towns in Pennsylvania.

There’s a logical reason why television viewers are so loyal to Special Report and have made it the number one news show in its time slot throughout Brit Hume’s television career.

For those who live in small towns - like the people residing along the Mississippi River - the reverence has always gone both ways.