Correspondent Mary Cronin had known for days that Dan Rather of CBS's 60 Minutes had received big-money offers from all three major networks, and the promise of Walter Cronkite's job if he would stay with CBS. She also knew, from her talks with Rather himself, that the newsman hoped to choose from among the offers by last Wednesday. "What I didn't know, and what had me pacing the floors that day, was how Rather would decide," says Cronin. "And he didn't know that himself, even when he called me at 11 o'clock that night." No matter. Rather's very indecision underscored the point of Cronin's extensive reporting for this week's cover story on the tumult in TV journalism. "CBS had always been the Tiffany of network news," she says. "That it was even conceivable for a superstar like Dan Rather to go to another network shows precisely how radically things are changing."
Cronin has been watching fortunes change in the television industry for some 15 years, first as a reporter-researcher in TIME's Show Business section and then as a correspondent in the New York bureau. Since last November, she has been tracing the developments in the TV news business that led to the wooing of Rather. Cronin interviewed dozens of news executives, producers and correspondents at the networks and in public television, as well as Walter Cronkite. "That," she says, "was like interviewing God."
Staff Writer Stephen Smith, who wrote the main narrative, became TIME'S Press writer in November 1978. An interest in print journalism came instinctively to Smith, a former senior editor at Horizon magazine and reporter for the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other newspapers. But today he is a "network news junkie" as well; he watches an hour of TV news each morning and another hour at night, and sets his alarm clock each week to catch his favorite show, CBS's Sunday Morning, "perhaps the most imaginative and creative news experiment going on in journalism." Smith got up extra early one recent Sunday to see Charles Kuralt and colleagues put the program together at a CBS studio in Manhattan.
The fan was not disappointed. Says Smith: "Just watching half-a-dozen people manipulating the control panel was tremendously exciting for a guy who works alone with a typewriter."