Andy Rooney would probably abhor what I'm about to propose, but ever since his passing on November 4, I couldn't help but think how much of a pioneer he was to the modern-day media landscape.
Twitter has become an inarguable source of news. Many major recent stories - from Charles Sullenberger's heroics on the Hudson to the East Coast earthquake this summer - first came to light on the 140-character-or-less network. It is symbolic of an age in which news is delivered instantly and briefly. Moreover, as noted in last issue's PRWeek/Porter Novelli Media Content Survey, punditry and opinion have become accepted and expected parts of "news" coverage.
So how does an old-school, sometimes curmudgeonly commentator qualify as a new media visionary?
60 Minutes, which debuted in 1968, quickly established itself as the preeminent TV news magazine, delivering the facts with a depth unmatched by many outlets. In 1978, "Three Minutes or So With Andy Rooney" (later renamed "A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney") was added to the program. It introduced a very brief, by comparison, segment where news was discussed. However, more often than not, Rooney waxed on about everyday topics, which really became his calling card.
In his very first segment, which aired July 2, 1978, he took the topical subject of July 4 traffic - something with which every viewer could relate - and went on to complain about those who keep track of how many people die in car accidents on holiday weekends. His conclusion was that the Fourth of July is "one of the safest weekends of the year to be going someplace."
Perhaps no segment captured his essence better than one in which he revealed that there was no real Mrs. Smith who made Mrs. Smith's pies. He earned an Emmy Award for that spot in which he broke a news story in his uniquely humorous manner.
Three minutes or so on 60 Minutes could easily be equated to Twitter's 140-character limit. Both demand succinct, on-point messages. It's an environment in which Rooney would have thrived.
In the aforementioned PRWeek survey, Garance Franke-Ruta, senior editor at The Atlantic, commented that in today's media age "you have to be first or you have to be different." Rooney was first some of the time, but he was different all of the time.
Gideon Fidelzeid is the managing editor of PRWeek. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.