At this point, I've been watching the CBSnews.com stream for 90 minutes. What was it like for all of us as we, one by one, came home from work or school and jumped into the live coverage? 50 years later, my heart is still racing.
The newsroom--arranged in the horseshoe shape that characterized newspaper city rooms of the era. With Cronkite in the middle.
Teletype machines clacking and ringing in the background, as presumably low-level newsroom employees hover over them, rip the reports off the machine, deliver them to copy editors and run back to the machines. Cronkite's desk piles up with teletype reports.
The rotary-dial phone sitting on Cronkite's news desk.
Watching the stream, you can see that this spontaneous reporting of a huge news story created the model for all breaking news coverage that we've seen since. It's worth watching just to see that. One big difference is that the JFK coverage didn't get--as braking stories routinely do today--a logo and a theme song. The old way was better: more immediate, more real, unpackaged, unvarnished. The news itself was the centerpiece, not the graphic design.
Most people remember Walter Cronkite as the man who brought us the news. But--90 minutes into it--we see Charles Collingwood taking over [Cronkite deserved a break--probably needed one--you have to wonder what he did when he left the desk] and doing an equally amazing job of filtering the bulletins, adding spontaneous commentary and background.
It's worth noting that the CBS on-air reporters came from print media and radio. They were not news readers or actors.
2:30 pm CST: Reporter Neil Strasser tells us that 3 jets are preparing to leave Washington DC to bring members of the Kennedy family to Dallas. I think that was incorrect news. But, again, they were scrambling to report everything that came over the wires. The first draft is often wrong.
At this point, it's not clear if VP Lyndon Johnson has taken the oath of office. But CBS is already calling him president.
Walter comes to the news desk to report that schools have been dismissed, adding that his own children's school was dismissed early because "the children were weeping so much that school could not continue."
A scary bit of information at the time: A plane with Kennedy Administration officials, which had been flying over the Pacific, had been turned around to head back to DC. This may have been a moment when I began to worry that America was falling apart.