Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lesson learned, we hope

The public reaction to Tim Russert's death has been interesting because of its intensity. It's unusual, of course, for a well-known electronic journalist to die in the midst of his career in sudden fashion. Russert always came across as a friendly face on the air, someone smart yet approachable, as comfortable with steelworkers as Senators. And so the tributes have been numerous.

It's been particularly true for those with a Buffalo connection. I've heard from a few out-of-town friends about the news. Russert may not have lived here since college vacations, but he never forgot his roots, and never traded allegances from the Bills to the Redskins.

But there's one interesting footnote to the whole tragic business.

It's been one of the most fascinating political years in memory already, and by all accounts Russert was having the ride of his life. I believe he recently said something like, "Can you believe that we're getting paid to cover this?" to a friend.

But the demands of work were quite high. Russert had "Meet the Press." He was appearing every primary night (and day) with analysis. There was the usual news during the rest of the time. You can throw in the duties of being Washington bureau chief. And who knows what other blogs and Internet-related responsibilities were on his plate as well.

At one point, Russert was asked to appear on television for his 40th straight day, and he told NBC president Jeff Zucker an executive something like, "Jeff, you've got to give the people what they want," followed by a big laugh.

While Russert lived for this stuff, the only silver lining in the tragedy is that maybe television executives are starting to realize that talent is getting spread awfully thin. I see more of David Gregory, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell than I do of my friends, counting all outlets, and I'm never up in time for the Today show.

Well, after the memorial service, I believe Zucker was quoted as saying that he planned to hire several people to take over Russert's responsibilities. And that's a good move. Let's give those journalists a little time to recharge their batteries and gain some perspective. It's probably in everyone's best interests.

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