Cover image for You should have been here yesterday : a life in television news
You should have been here yesterday : a life in television news
Utley, Garrick, 1939-2014.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, [2000]

Physical Description:
xvi, 285 pages ; 25 cm + 1 computer optical disc (4 3/4 in.)
General Note:
Includes index.

CD-ROM contains 30-minute QuickTime video and QuickTime software for Mac and PC.
Reading Level:
1170 Lexile.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN4874.U89 A3 2000 Book and Software Set Non-Fiction Area

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A memoir - in print and on a DVD disc - of a life in front of the cameras and of the evolution of television news by one of America's leading TV journalists. A generation of television viewers grew up watching Garrick Utley as he trekked to the far reaches of the Earth for NBC News. What is life as a foreign correspondent really like? Is it all glamour and adventure? In this memoir, Utley reveals what life is like behind the camera. He takes us from the battlefields of Vietnam to the backwaters of Belize, from communist Russia to revolutionary Rhodesia, in search of the most riveting, most important news stories out there. But Utley's story is far more than a personal memoir - it's a sweeping history of network news. Utley reflects, in particular, on how the correspondent's role has shifted as centralized control, advanced technology, infotainment, and profit margin have altered the way television networks operate and television news is reported.

Author Notes

Garrick Utley spent thirty years with NBC News reporting on international affairs from more than seventy countries. He served as the network's London-based chief European correspondent and chief foreign correspondent, garnering several of journalism's most distinguished awards in the process. Utley also served as an anchor on several news programs, including Meet the Press, Sunday Today, and NBC Magazine. After three years as ABC News's chief foreign correspondent, he joined CNN, where he currently works as a contributor from the network's New York bureau.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Utley grew up personally witnessing the birth and infancy of television news. His father was a radio newscaster, and Utley followed in his footsteps, but in television. In this memoir, Utley traces the development of television news, which he says owes its success to the turbulence of the 1960s: the civil rights movement, urban unrest, the counterculture movement, the Vietnam War, and Woodstock. Television brought the immediacy of events, along with the drama of visuals. But Utley is candid about its limitations and tendency to superficiality. Over the course of his career, network news production has changed, because technological advancements and concerns about profit margins have changed the way news is reported. Utley discusses those changes in perspective, and he recalls the experiences of 30 years as a foreign correspondent in more than 70 countries, including Vietnam, Rhodesia, and Russia. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Currently with CNN's New York bureau, Utley covered international affairs for three decades for NBC, reporting from more than 70 countries, and went on to serve as ABC's chief foreign correspondent from 1993 to 1996. This low-key but engrossing memoir demonstrates not only how much he loves broadcast journalism but also reveals his passionate belief in the high standards television news owes its audience. He includes vivid descriptions of career highlights, such as his coverage of the conflict in Vietnam, when TV news first came to the fore; the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague; the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which brought OPEC into the limelight, and a chilling account of a 1977 interview with former Nazi leader Albert Speer. Most important to the author and his readers, however, is his analysis of the changes that have occurred in TV news reporting and what lies ahead in this information age. According to Utley, there has been a sharp decline in network time allotted to coverage of international issues by foreign correspondents, which he attributes to the increasingly bottom-line mentality of the corporations that have taken over the networks, although he also cites American apathy toward foreign issues as a contributing factor. But Utley does believe that increasing globalization is motivating viewers to seek out more international coverage, and he sees the broadcast news services, in combination with electronic and digital journalism, complying. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Utley, a foreign correspondent with NBC News for more than 30 years, could have titled this memoir "Right Place, Right Time." The son of a radio newscaster, Utley, who currently works for CNN, got in on the ground floor of television news and went on to witness both its glory days and its decline. He weaves that story deftly with his own, covering some of the most memorable events of the last three decades: the arrival of U.S. troops in Vietnam and their departure more than ten years later; the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia; the collapse of the Berlin Wall; and war in the Middle East. Utley's narrative doesn't always follow a strict chronology, but the promised index will help readers to find specific events. An accompanying CD-ROM (not seen) contains highlights of his broadcasting career. From his rare vantage point, Utley offers shrewd observations on the economic, technological, and social factors that have changed how news is gathered and reported. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DSusan M. Colowick, North Olympic Lib. Syst., Port Angeles, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One STARTING YOUNG Suddenly the voices of radio were no longer alone. Faces were there, pictures, images moving on a screen: the face and image of a man. He was seated behind a desk speaking to me, an eleven-year-old sitting in a living room, Listening to and watching the news. Yes, watching it! I was alone, and not alone. At the same moment he was also speaking to an audience that was growing rapidly as communities across the nation plugged in to what would soon be transcontinental television.     The man behind the desk was nattily dressed for the black-and-white screen. There was, invariably, a carnation stuck in his boutonniere. On his head was a carefully placed hairpiece. And in front of him, on the front edge of the desk, his name was spelled out in all its John Cameron Swayze length. The desk, in a studio in New York City, was important. It was more than a prop on which to lay a script. Just as a lectern grants weight to a college professor delivering a lecture or a pulpit elevates a Sunday preacher pronouncing the Lord's message, the desk quickly became an essential symbol of authority for the television newscaster. It also provided a stage for objects we do not see on news programs today: an ashtray on the desk next to Swayze, and in the background a discreetly placed but highly visible carton of Camel cigarettes, the sponsor of the fifteen-minute newscast.     When the network newscasts were launched in the 1948-1949 season with Swayze on NBC and Douglas Edwards on CBS, neither was a major figure in broadcast news. Swayze had worked as a newscaster for NBC on the West Coast and had been brought to New York to deliver a morning network news broadcast on radio. But when the audience for his show began to decline, management told him he was through at NBC. Of course if he was interested, an executive told Swayze, there were some NBC people laying plans for television news. Perhaps he might talk with them. Swayze left the glamorous broadcasting heart of NBC in Rockefeller Center and took a taxi up to 106th street in East Harlem, where the future of television news was in its unglamorous incubation chamber. Swayze went to work covering the 1948 political conventions in Philadelphia, the first to be carried on television, and found his future. His particular gift was not his journalistic or writing skills or the carnation on his lapel, but his memory. He could memorize long passages of news without having to look down at his script, a valuable talent before the invention of the TelePrompTer.     That a job which entailed sitting behind a desk speaking words largely written by someone else while staring into a camera would one day be among the most coveted, richly compensated positions in broadcasting was a future not yet divined. The word "anchorman" had not yet been uttered. Swayze and Edwards were newscasters, not commentators. The senior news talents of radio, such as Edward R. Murrow and Eric Sevareid, were suspicious of television's ability to report news with the editorial depth they could provide with their writing and voices and, at times, their opinions. Nor did they feel comfortable with the new medium, suspecting, perhaps, that they would not be very good at it. Thus they left the door open for Swayze and Edwards.     Swayze's was not necessarily the image that the NBC news department preferred to present to the public, but his was the one the sponsor wanted, and in those early days in television the sponsor could even impose its brand on the title of the network newscast: the Camel News Caravan . Indeed, at the end of the broadcast the screen was filled with a close-up shot of a burning cigarette in an ashtray, its smoke curling up languidly as an announcer intoned that the program had been "produced for Camel cigarettes by NBC News." For those concerned with sponsor interference in the news content of the program, let us note that there were only three prohibitions: no live camel could be shown (real camels were dirty, the sponsor thought), no "no smoking" sign could appear on screen, and no cigars were permitted. When the producer of the Camel News Caravan pointed out in the early 1950s that such restrictions made it difficult to cover news of Winston Churchill as prime minister of Great Britain, Camel granted special dispensation for the Churchill cigar.     The income from the Camel News Caravan paid for the early development of NBC News. The tobacco industry was not yet treated as a public health hazard, and cigarette manufacturers were among the most visible advertisers on the television screen. Commercials showed doctors (or actors in white coats portraying doctors) assuring us of the benign qualities of tobacco, while popular singers in a recording studio testified that Camels did not damage their precious, income-earning throats. NBC News was not alone in giving cigarette companies free rein. In 1954 CBS made Walter Cronkite the host of a morning breakfast-time program to compete with NBC's young and successful Today program. One of the on-air duties of the (already) veteran newsman was to deliver commercials, including lighting up and puffing on a Winston cigarette. In his memoirs Cronkite writes of his discomfort in the role of journalist as pitchman, but the journalist's side won out on one issue. Instead of saying, "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," he said, "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should." Whatever writer's satisfaction Cronkite may have taken from defending proper grammar, the victory was short-lived. The sponsor insisted that "like" would sell more cigarettes than "as." If Cronkite could not bring himself to speak the Winston lines correctly, they could find someone else to do it. And they did.     Today, network television time is too expensive for one company or one advertising budget to sponsor an entire program. But in the 1950s, in television's infancy, it was still affordable. Texaco sponsored Milton Berle, and Alcoa Aluminum funded Murrow's See It Now for several years. Oldsmobile put its brand on the CBS newscast just as Camel did on NBC news. The potential for conflicts of interest between the independence of journalists and the demands of a sponsor were not yet seen as conflicts. Or if they were, broadcast executives in a young industry were not so concerned as to reject the sponsor's money. In the early 1950s Americans were more enthralled by the novelty of television than suspicious of its power to influence.     And what were we seeing on the small screen during those early newscasts? There was war in Korea. The film was black-and-white and silent, and it showed little combat and few casualties. At the end of each week NBC in New York sent a reel of collected news film to Chicago, where my father was now the leading television newscaster and commentator. He wanted to know which film stories had been seen by a national audience before he showed them again to his local viewers. Each weeknight I wrote out a detailed record of the film reports shown on the Camel News Caravan --my first reporting job and a condition for a modest increase in my weekly allowance. Growing up in the earliest trial-and-error years of television news, I was learning the craft by osmosis.     How good was the news coverage? No amount of nostalgia or yearning for some "golden era" of television can polish up what we were seeing, or not seeing, on the screen. In their fifteen minutes, the NBC and CBS newscasts offered skimpy reports. Most of them were brief film clips "voiced over" by a disembodied voice or excerpts of a news conference or an occasional interview with a political figure. All too often "reporting" a national or international event was nothing more than filming and then broadcasting a statement by a government official; the statement was the accepted story. But then, in the 1950s, the "credibility gap" that separated press, public, and government had not yet opened, and authority was not rigorously questioned. Television, like much of the written press, allowed Senator Joseph McCarthy to have a long, unimpeded run as he hurled accusations and ruined lives before anyone challenged him. The resonance that still surrounds the CBS See It Now program of Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly, which attacked McCarthy, is due not only to what it said but to the fact that it was the only program that dared to say it at the time.     Many of television's limitations and even shortcomings were understandable. It was a new medium. The technology was primitive. Visually, television offered little more than the newsreel, which was still playing at the local movie theater, although it was presented with new stories daily rather than once a week. The news film that was broadcast on television was actually provided by newsreel companies--Fox Movietone for NBC and Telenews for CBS. Like the newsreels, the news programs often ended with a feature about pets or the latest fashions; women's hats were a particular favorite. Aside from the war in Korea, television news did not pretend to cover the world in any depth. Indeed, John Cameron Swayze's most familiar words came near the end of the broadcast, when he would announce that it was now time to "hopscotch the world for headlines," referring to important news stories for which no pictures were available. They would therefore be skipped over lightly. Critics did not complain. Neither they nor viewers expected much of substance to emerge from the new piece of furniture with the flickering screen in the living room. From the beginning television news was mainly a headline service, and a very limited one at that. If viewers wanted real news, in depth and breadth, they turned to the newspapers or the weekly newsmagazines. Yet television did offer that one exciting, indisputable advance that made up for all its shortcomings: images of news events were coming into our living rooms. They moved and in doing so often moved us as they spoke to us. They were working their way into the marrow of our lives.     In 1951 the high point of my week came on Saturday afternoon when Dad would take me along to the NBC studios in Chicago as he prepared one of his news and commentary programs. If television technology was limited and news film scarce, the staff was minuscule. There were no copyboys to run the mundane errands in the newsroom, so I would climb on a chair to cut the news agency wire copy as it poured in from around the world on the teletype machines I had first encountered as a seven-year-old. I was fascinated by the datelines and bylines of foreign correspondents in distant lands. I also pestered anyone I could find, asking questions about how broadcasting worked. Fortunately, there were some good role models at NBC in Chicago, including a disc jockey named Dave Garroway, who would become the first host of the Today show, an announcer, Hugh Downs, and my father's assistant--a young man making the transition from newspapers to television, John Chancellor. Our paths would cross again. On a sunny June morning in 1961, the president of Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota (a town that had succeeded magnificently in living up to its motto, Cows, Colleges and Contentment), shook my hand and handed me a diploma, which I took to mean that I was now a certified adult. I had spent four years absorbing a liberal arts education and working on the campus radio station as a newscaster and ultimately the news director. Not that it involved much work. Our only news lifeline to the world was a United Press teletype machine. It was provided free of charge by Lucky Strike cigarettes in exchange for Lucky Strike getting free sponsorship of all the news programs on station KARL. Did I feel any conflict of interest or even the slightest twinge of conscience as I read the Lucky Strike commercials that were mailed to us by the company's ad agency? Not the slightest. Our broadcasts were not heard beyond the college dormitories, but heck, we said to ourselves, we were following in the footsteps of the Camel News Caravan with John Cameron Swayze or Walter Cronkite puffing away on his Winston. Like NBC, our tiny station was not about to turn down a sponsor. It was a different era.     When I left Northfield, there was a world to face and a career to choose. The goal was clear--to become a foreign correspondent for a television network--and a plan had been worked out. I would study overseas for a year or two in order to learn a language or two. Then I would find a job as a "stringer" for an American newspaper to build up a portfolio of articles as well as experience. Then I would add a part-time job as a radio stringer for one of the networks, which would, in the fullness of time, lead to a position in television. There was only one obstacle to the success of this foolproof (I thought) plan. The United States was approaching the high noon of the Cold War. The building of the Berlin Wall was two months away, the Cuban missile crisis was a year off, and as a young man I faced the inescapable prospect of military service. The draft, and the two years it would take out of my young, "anxious to get going" life, hung over my head more as an inconvenience than the mortal threat or moral outrage it would become during the Vietnam War.     One afternoon shortly before graduation, luck, or perhaps coincidence (the two are not always distinguishable), intervened. A notice appeared on a college bulletin board announcing a new foreign language program offered by the U.S. Army Reserve. At the time, an alternative to the two-year draft was to perform six months' active duty followed by five and a half years of weekly reserve meetings. Under the proposed program, which was pinned to the bulletin board, the active duty would be lengthened to allow for one year of intensive language training at the Army Language School in Monterey, California, hardly a hardship post. When the language training was finished, so the notice promised, the members of this special language program would return to civilian status as reservists. If ever opportunity was writ large, it was on that bulletin board. Two days after graduation, I walked into the Fifth Army headquarters in Chicago, where a major cordially asked me to sit down and assured me that the army would like to teach me a language.     "How about Lithuanian?" he asked. I hesitated a moment, hoping he was joking. He wasn't. I cleared my throat, tried to hide my disappointment, and replied, "I was thinking of something a bit broader, like French or German."     "We're not offering those `tourist' languages," he replied brusquely. "We need specialists in the exotic ones." I did not know what the military considered to be "exotic." "And don't forget," the major continued, "if you can speak Lithuanian, you have a leg up on Latvian." I acknowledged that a Baltic language might be of help were I planning on a political career that would one day culminate in my election as an alderman from one of Chicago's ethnic wards. But that was not how I saw my future.     The major paused and then opened the center drawer of his steel, military-issue desk. He pulled out a sheet of paper and studied it for a minute. "I'll be honest with you, Garrick. I think you are missing a rare opportunity with Lithuanian. However, we may be able to accommodate you. We have an opening in Polish." There was a silence in the room. We were eyeball-to-eyeball and the U.S. Army had blinked, at least a little. But my feeling of elation quickly gave way to doubt. Should I accept Polish? It was a serious offer. If I turned it down, I would still have the draft to face. Suddenly I was in my first job negotiation. "Polish is more interesting," I granted, "particularly if I plan to run for mayor of Chicago one day. But since my plans lie elsewhere ..." The major shook his head. "I really don't know if we can help you. Just leave us your phone number. We'll call you if something else opens up."     The next two days were consumed by worry that I had made a terrible mistake. The growing prospect of the U.S. Army's Infantry School, and a possible winter posting on a hilltop along the Korean DMZ, did not seem to be a better start to adult life than learning Polish. Three days later a telephone call brought welcome relief. The major was on the line, his voice brimming with confidence. "Garrick, I have good news. You can study Russian."     The eleven months at the language school were intensive and mentally exhausting. For six hours a day I spent military duty in small classrooms as patient instructors, many of them elderly human relics of the last days of the czar, drilled the rich beauty and brain-curdling complexities of the Russian language into me. As they did, I saw two doors opening. One led to a foreign language and a distant culture. The other offered a perspective of my own language and culture as viewed from another tongue, just like an astronaut who no longer views the earth in the same familiar way after seeing it from space.     In September 1962 military life ended. I took off my uniform, said good-by to early morning reveilles, let my hair grow longer, and took off for Europe. The first stop was Berlin and a year of graduate study at the Free University in the western part of the divided city. In Europe university students are left on a long academic leash, and I used mine to roam through the city's rich cultural life, as well as show up for assorted lectures and seminars on European history and international affairs. It was a last delicious fling with student life. When it ended in the summer of 1963, it was time to get serious about becoming a foreign correspondent. Opportunity was waiting for me in Brussels. Copyright © 2000 Garrick Utley. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
1 Starting Youngp. 1
2 Initiationp. 11
3 The Highest Powerp. 17
4 Pictures of Warp. 29
5 The Camera Rulesp. 43
6 A Land of the Eternal Presentp. 50
7 The Monk's Talep. 57
8 Shifting Visionsp. 75
9 Moving Onp. 81
10 1968!p. 99
11 Once in a Lifetimep. 119
12 Home Againp. 127
13 Foreign Correspondentp. 142
14 One to Rememberp. 157
15 Datelinesp. 170
16 A Story of Neglectp. 175
17 Fireworks Over Red Squarep. 197
18 Global Villagersp. 209
19 The Rules Changep. 223
20 The New Newsp. 229
21 The Noise of Newsp. 240
22 Parting Companyp. 250
23 Embracing the Epochp. 259
24 A Dinner in Romep. 267
Indexp. 273