ASSIST NEWS SERVICE
PO Box 2126
Garden Grove, CA 92842-2126
September 2, 2001
"HEADLINE NEWS" - THE STORY OF DAVID GOODNOW, THE CNN ANCHOR WHO WANTED TO BE A MINISTER
By Dan Wooding
In his latest column, international journalist Dan Wooding talks with David Goodnow about his Christian faith and his views on how news is covered on television today.
ATLANTA, GEORGIA (ANS) -- David Goodnow has one of the most familiar faces in American television news. He was one of the original anchors at CNN Headline News starting in 1982 and is now retired from the anchor desk. But he is busier than ever as an on-camera host, public relations consultant, voice-over artist, public speaker and writer.
But the "Headline News" is that Goodnow is a committed Christian and, at one time, was even going into the ministry as a pastor.
"I was born in Vincennes, Indiana, a beautiful, historic old French town hard by the banks of the Wabash River," he said during an interview. "My mom and dad were wonderful God-fearing folks who could devote all their attention to me. I was an only child.
"I graduated from Vincennes Lincoln High School in 1957 in an era when chewing gum in class was considered an infraction. My earlier thoughts about becoming a US Navy chaplain had slowly evaporated even though, at age 15, I had been part of a small group of boys taken by our pastor to see the Methodist bishop in Indianapolis. We had all expressed thoughts of possibly becoming ministers. One in our group, who married my first cousin, did become a Methodist pastor in the late 1950s. I was in church and Sunday school every Sunday and in Methodist Youth Fellowship every Sunday evening.
"I joined the US Army, then did my active and reserve time, spent a year in college and began searching for a vocation. I didn't think I had what it would take to become a pastor. One fine day I heard a friend of mine on the local radio station. I thought that was just the ticket, I'd become a disk jockey, make commercials and read the news. What an idea! Any thoughts of college then receded. I would later return to university life and enjoy the experience."
Goodnow got that job, spent six years in radio broadcasting in Illinois and Indiana, became a corporate public relations director in banking, media relations manager for a public utility and PR and alumni director at the local college. He began to think about TV being the next stop.
"Even though I gave up my earlier idea of being a pastor, a presence I felt since I could first remember was always with me," he went on. "I had been three years old when I looked out the window, up at the blue, puffy-clouded sky and said, 'Hi God.' My mother was with me and dad was working at a defense plant some miles away.
When I said it I heard her catch her breath. She came over and gave me a big hug. That began my understanding of a certain presence in the background of my consciousness. Not exactly what one might call conscience, but more. It has always been the still, small voice but with something extra that's difficult to define. I've felt it many times to a greater or lesser extent but it's always been there.
Years passed for David Goodnow and he had then found himself with experience as producer and interviewer at the first PBS TV station in Indiana (not supported by public funds), in TV news at commercial stations, as an anchor and investigative reporter, weatherman and sometime sports reporter.
"By that time, I also had been a corporate public information supervisor for a large electric utility company, a partner in an advertising agency and later owner of an ad agency," he said. "But all the while, I considered myself a Christian and attended church participating in musical programs as a member of the choir, occasional choir director, brass instrumentalist or pipe organist."
By 1982, Goodnow was ready to move on to another news job when a TV producer friend advised him to send a tape to CNN Headline News then called CNN 2.
"He thought there would be an opening. I sent the tape thinking nothing would come of it," said Goodnow. "Something did. About a week later, I received a call from CNN and they invited me to visit. Ted Kavanau, who was one of the original CNN executives, said he had no opening at the moment but thought he soon might and wanted a personal meeting. Even so, he have me a tour of Atlanta and the Turner Broadcast facilities. Several months later, October 1982, I was one of the original anchors in that new network. What an operation it was.
"My first big story to report at CNN Headline News (the name was changed about the time I started) was the death of Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev. The network put out a news release stating that I was the first American reporter to break the news to the audience. I would also report on the demise of Yuri Andropov and Constantine Chernenko as the old-order Soviet leaders died and began fading into memory in relatively short order.
"All this time, that still, small voice in the background was always there. I would always feel God's presence in my life. I'd asked on several occasions why I didn't get a particular job and then would expect some fairly prompt insight. The answer would come possibly years later as I'd realize the thing I wanted most would have been very bad for me.
"My wife's a Christian. Having grown up in a Christian Tennessee family, she has always been there with great patience and love for me and our children. The next drama in my life touched centrally upon her. It was Easter week of 1991 when the phone rang. My wife had been in a three-car wreck. She was unhurt but it could have been much, much worse. No one was injured in the accident.
"This was the wakeup call that had been coming gently but more urgently over the years. It reminded me of the fabled Missouri mule. Stubborn, it would take a good whack along the side of the head to get the mule's attention. I wondered if I was the Indiana version of that mule; here was that whack and it was done in earnest."
He said that he began to re-examine things in his life and decided to set an example. "It was time to get serious about my Christian precepts," he said. "I wouldn't have made a very good pastor, my feeble goal of years before, but this was something I could do in the secular world.
"Some of the people at the network began to see a difference and asked about it. I told them about the change in my life, my new goal and also an organization of Christians in entertainment and the media called Media Fellowship International. As time passed, a number of them would ask."
Goodnow said in the 17 years broadcasting over CNN Headline News and CNN International, it was learned the viewing audience could be found in some 20 of the world's 24 time zones in certain parts of the day. The 17 years of the overnight schedule (in the US eastern time zone) was enough and Goodnow retired from the network. "I still have an opportunity to advise younger writers, editors and producers about historical and certain other elements of news," he said. "If asked, I will also help them in their job searches, writing and on-camera performances. I continue to receive videotapes of their work for evaluation."
"IF IT BLEEDS, IT LEADS"
Goodnow then gave his critique of the coverage of local news in America. "Local news has gotten to the point that audiences expect to see (and producers try to deliver) a lot of flash and dash," he said. "These are the car chases, shootings, and other things that appeal to only a surface understanding of what is going on in our cities and towns. 'If it bleeds, it leads,' has become famous as the mantra of many local news stations. The gory stuff wins over more gentle human fare and stories about municipal and financial concerns. It will generally lead the newscast as the first story one sees.
"News is supposed to include that which is unusual. If these events occur daily, they don't fit that definition. Human drama always plays a part in news since news will always be about people. But prurient material appealing to baser curiosity demeans journalists everywhere. That's not my sole opinion but one shared by many.
"I even proposed, partly in jest, that stations devote a complete show at the end of their week to all the shootings, robberies, car chases and bloody fare. Hype it, get the sponsors (who'd be there in droves) and then try to deal with a complete picture of human events in a community during their regular weekday news shows.
"The run for the ratings is earnestly done and showing a profit is not an option for a news director. News directors used to move an average of every two years, with anchors packing up every three. Those numbers may have changed but not to any great extent."
Goodnow said during his tenure CNN always made it clear to its staff that the news would be covered as objectively as possible with all sides being reported on any given issue. "There were many there that watched carefully to see that this dictum was followed with no exceptions," he said. "After retracting its 'Tailwind' story about supposed US use of nerve gas in the Viet Nam war, the CNN policy to scrutinize stories became even more stringent."
I wondered if he saw bias in the coverage of news today. "There may be some over the years but, if one has a free press to report on what the elected government is doing and what happens around us, and report it without being censored by those in power, there will be some cases where reporters will occasionally stray from objectivity," he said. "On balance, I feel reporters have a stake in being professional and slanting the news would be anathema to most of them.
"Some folks may see bias through their own filter of opinion; they may see what they expect to see. One example may be instructive.
"During the Gulf War, we were dealing with a deluge of information. One day I received two letters dealing with one particular story. One letter came from a supporter of Israel, the other from an Arab-American. Each thought they saw and heard that same story slanted in favor of the other side.
"I looked back at the story and could find no bias in it at all. It was neutral and explained all of what was available on that element of the war with each side's position clearly spelled out.
"On my watch we endeavored to get it right, all of it, both sides, no
Goodnow said that he is also a consultant to sacred and secular organizations as to their TV image and presence. "I examine the goals of an organization, how determined it actually is to succeed at reaching which audience and then we proceed from there," he said. "If there is a meager budget, I tell them to wait until it grows.
"I make many speeches around the country to secular and religious groups alike. Many want to know about my life as a Christian while others are interested in the TV news broadcasting business. I recently spoke to a group at a college symposium on ethics in journalism.
"I also am available as a corporate spokesman to narrate and host documentaries and long-form programs about industrial subjects and short-form projects."
He said that if he were to have a rostrum from which to speak to the people of the world and have them as a "captive" audience, he would say, "Look around and see how mankind has progressed over the past hundred years. Have we been in the habit of repeating our mistakes? Have we profited from our missteps? Are we better off now that we have all the gadgets that are part of every day life? If not, then wouldn't you think it's time to examine what we are doing wrong?"
Goodnow added, "The precepts of Christ may not be in 'fashion' these days but they are making a return from their dim presence of a few decades ago. They very simply outline what we should do to make our world a better place. It's a simple message. It's not rocket science. Why is it simple? It is simple so all can understand it. John 3:16 is seen on placards in many sports events. Some sneer at these but many others see them and are reminded that we just keep living our lives wrong, bumping our noses and then wondering why it hurts, why it happened and what's going on.
"There are many who want to parse and pick at one who is convinced of the sensible rightness of the Christian way and try to talk them out of what they believe; it has always been so. Much of the world doesn't want to hear the message of Christ. But it's still there, God is still patient, in control, loving his children, biding His time until we wake up and see with new eyes and hear with new ears and understand with new hearts.
"Some wonder if a Christian can be suitably skeptical and report all the news. This is what I have spoken about to college classes when the subject turns to the ethical practice of journalism. To be ethical is to be honest and tell the entire story and then let the audience decide. The idea turns upon the audience seeing a good idea or bad idea for what it is. The ideas will rise or fall of their own weight. As a Christian in the news business, I am bound to abide by rules of fair and honest reporting. Thus, all sides will get an airing of their views. If good, they will make their mark. If not, their influence will wane.
"Reporters are surrogates for the rest of us. They are there to see what happens, then tell the tale. We all can't be there in the House or Senate or in state or local government meetings, but they can. We have a right to expect them to relate all the facts of a story.
"God has blessed this country in many ways. Reporters of all beliefs are working in many newsrooms. That First Amendment freedom to speak out includes a person's right to complain to a news organization about coverage of a story. Citizens have many choices of media to learn about events. I hope people take enough interest in what they see, hear and read that they exercise that right. To do less is to casually ignore our freedoms. Ignore them long enough and they may go away."
Until recently, David was the managing editor for World Net Daily's radio news. He serves as a broadcast consultant to the web newspaper as well as other organizations.
David can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Wooding is an award winning British journalist now living in Southern California with his wife Norma. He is the founder and international director of ASSIST (Aid to Special Saints in Strategic Times). Wooding is also a syndicated columnist, and was for ten years a commentator on the UPI Radio Network in Washington, DC. Wooding is the author of some 39 books, one of which is "Blind Faith" which he co-authored with his 93-year-old mother Anne Wooding, who was a pioneer missionary to the blind of Nigeria in the 1930s. Copies of this book are available from the ASSIST USA office at PO Box 2126, Garden Grove, CA 92842- 126. His writings are on the ASSIST Website at: www.assistnews.net.
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