Like so many other professions, journalism builds on the accomplishments of those who have gone before. And journalists learn their craft by watching, listening and learning at the feet of the masters. Mike Wallace, the longtime CBS 60 Minutes contributor who died last night
at the age of 93, was one of those masters, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mark his passing here.
My connection with him was tenuous. I never met him, never electronically crossed his path. But a friend of mine did. His name was Mike, as well. He grew up a few blocks away from me, and he was a few years older than I was. As I was working my way through journalism school, he was already scouring the streets of Montreal, covering the city for a major radio station, leveraging the craft and teaching those of us following in his footsteps that this stuff mattered, that passion made all the difference between good coverage and great coverage.
One day, I got a call from Mike telling me he had snagged an interview with Mike Wallace. Mr. Wallace was his hero, too, and to call the interview a coup was more than a little obvious. It was huge. And it set the stage for a career that had more such coups stuffed into nowhere near enough time.
Which was how I found myself in my car a few days later, listening to my friend interview one of the giants of journalism. How he more than held his own, how he managed to turn five minutes of airtime into an unforgettable moment for anyone who tuned in that day, how he refused to accept the limitations that conventional wisdom placed on young reporters whose only philosophy was to swing for the fences no matter what their conservative-minded news directors said. In Mike's world, you went for it. Fallout was something you dealt with after the fact.
Sadly, Mike's life was cut far too short by an illness that cared not a whit about his magic with a microphone, leaving those who knew him to wonder what might have been. Mr. Wallace's passing reminded me of of my lost friend, of why all of this is so much more than mere work, of why the world needs more people like these two Mikes, the one I knew and the one I wish I knew.
Over the next few days I'll likely find myself stepping into a studio at some ridiculously early hour. And as I often do before I clip in and watch the clock count down, I'll think of my late friend Mike, and how he opened the door to pushing ourselves further in this profession than any kid from the suburbs of Montreal ever had a right to.
Your turn: Who have you learned from? What did you learn? Why does it matter?