Rest in print

Retired WABC anchor Bill Beutel just died and the station is going overboard with coverage: Huge chunks of all its shows yesterday and again today are devoted to tributes. I’m sorry he’s gone, but heads of state don’t get this treatment. Then again, I always said that the only true fringe benefit of working on newspapers is that they’ll run your obit. Now I have to wonder who’ll die first: me or the papers that would carry my obit.

  • Jeff, you raise a bigger point here. The obit “market” – if you want to call it that – is wide open. It used to be you had to attain a certain status to get an obit. Now we all can.

  • One reason that the coverage may seem extreme to you, Jeff, is because he wasn’t a colleuege of yours. Those TV people knew him and worked with him… it’s obvious that the coverage is for them paying respect to people who came before them in journalism.

    Yeah, it’s mostly overboard for us as watchers, but it’s appropriate considering the source.

    As an architect, we mourn other architects passing, and I know that would seem extreme to others. The only reason you don’t see it is because we don’t own TV stations.

  • Mike G

    I always thought it was classy that minor guys in the circulation department at the Chicago Tribune would get a substantial obit. (Few enough classy things happen at the Trib these days.)

    It’s a different matter when TV stations go on and on. We’re captive (unless we switch away) and we’re forced to share the embarassment of endless obsequiousness and the general puffing up of the profession. Simplicity and restraint always work best in funerals, and leave a better impression that the deceased really did do more than can be summed up here.

  • I can understand the urge to mourn a colleague, but some sense of propriety and common sense can be maintained even while grieving. ABC’s non-stop tributing for Peter Jennings was clearly excessive, for instance. For most of us, he was simply a pleasant man who read the news, but ABC has expended more time and effort on his passing than on the Pope’s.

    I suppose the difference is that no end of tributes can be held among his friends and colleagues — offscreen — with nary a complaint; but constant obiting in media is the equivalent of breaking into the home of strangers to constantly re-eulogize other complete strangers.

    Also, these public mournings by the press tend to too visibly demonstrate their willingness to selectively attack and praise. Jennings’ tributes on-air matched Reagan’s in size and scope, but while the press celebrated Jennings as a spotless saint (his smoking raising him to victim status, even), Jennings himself was compelled to constantly raise criticism of Reagan as his coffin was carried live on TV, even invoking racism as we saw a president laid to rest, criticism and commentary that would have been more appropriate at some later time.

  • John

    I watched the Sunday morning news on WABC, and they had a five minute tribute to Beutel that opened the 8 a.m. segment of the show, which was nice, since I grew up watching he and Roger Grimsby on Ch. 7. But after the tribute was over, they had the near-tears anchor, followed by a phone call with the current anchor, followed by even more tributes, to the point that if it wasn’t for the weather segment, it would have gone on and on and on. And then at the half-hour, they started all over again. Definitely a little overboard.

    From the cultural history standpoint outside of just the New York City market, Beutel deserves mention for being the “serious” anchor on WABC’s Eyewitness News team of the late 1960s and early 70s that brought the concept of the “Happy Talk” news team to the forefront, which most people consider the beginning of the dumbing down of local news to the lowest common denominator. Grimsby was always the one with the wise-ass remarks, either towards Rona Barrett or Howard Cosell, while Tex Antoine had his own schtick with Uncle Weatherbee, and (unfortunately for Tex), a bad sense of what type of joke to tell viewers at his on-air birthday party.

    Buetel was the straight man to all of this, and all the tributes I’ve seen said he was a nice guy off-camera, which is probably why he got such a lengthy tribute on Ch. 7’s newscats over the past 36 hours. But he also didn’t seem to mind all that much being part of the trvialization of local TV news for 30-plus years.

  • Bill Beutel was an icon in the New York market. His many achievements include holding the record for longest run by a news anchor in New York. The concept of Eyewitness News invented by legendary news director Al Primo was not about so-called “happy talk” but rather about casting genuine personalities in an ensemble. WABC EWN became the newscast preferred by tri-state residents, not simply the highest rated but the gold standard of New York city TV news shops. Bill Beutel was more than a TV anchor, his tireless work in the community and efforts to promote New York city are well documented. Beyond his considerable skills as a journalist and communicator, Bill was also one of that most rare breed – a gentleman. Jeff, Bill Beutel deserves what he got and imho more. Only a few heads of state do anything of substance during their tenures and sadly most get significantly more coverage when passing than they deserve.

  • Maybe they loved him.

    I remember Beutel fondly and was happy to be reminded of those days. I didn’t see it down here in DC, but I hope they really did give him a worthy sendoff.

    Roger Grimsby–oh yeah!

  • Josh

    Countless people grew up watching Bill. He was like a member of the family. It is shocking to see a few of those who were “born yesterday” question tributes to a man who developed news reporting as we know it.

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