SAN DIEGO, November 6, 2011 – Andy Rooney’s death at age 92 has rightfully generated an outpouring of accolades being published about his impressive career in journalism.
The reason Andy Rooney’s death matters is less about the man, and more about the substance of the profession he represents. Rooney proved that words still matter, and that writing with skill and elegance still matters. The story matters, and the story prevails.
Most people know Rooney only as that craggy-faced old guy carping about something every week at the end of 60 Minutes. More will learn from obituaries that he distinguished himself as a writer for Stars and Stripes during World War II, as a writer for Arthur Godfrey and for Harry Reasoner at CBS News long before he joined 60 Minutes in 1978.
He wrote four books about World War II in the late 1940s and more since. But Rooney never saw himself as a commentator. He saw himself as a writer who just happened to deliver his stories on TV.
Rooney is one of those fortunate people who knew what he wanted to do from an early age. He worked as a copy boy in high school for his hometown newspaper, the Albany Knickerbocker News. His college career at Colgate University was cut short like so many men of the Greatest Generation by the war.
Rooney never went back to college. It didn’t matter. There is only one way great writers learn to write: by writing. He learned to write on the battlefields, under pressure. Great athletes become great by putting in the hard work every day on the track, in the gym, at the rink. They learn through repetition with good form, striving to improve a little every day. They are put under pressure through competition and their skills forged until they shine. Great writers do the same thing, and the great ones never stop writing. Rooney ended up writing virtually until the day he died.
When all we do is write email or text messages, we lose the skill of storytelling. We have stopped writing by choice. We must not let the art of storytelling decline. Rooney would be pleased if his death provided this reminder.
Rooney had the knack for being able to tell a story about anything. The topic honestly wasn’t that important. His on-air delivery wasn’t important either. What smart people at CBS knew is that Rooney was one of the best writers who ever passed through their doors. A skilled writer can make any topic come alive by the use of language alone that draws the individual in and makes him or her start to think, react, and fill in the spaces left for the story to breathe.
All good stories breathe, just like we breathe in a lively conversation. Without that space to breathe, a story turns into a lecture, and who wants to be lectured to?
All of us can write. Some of us can write well. But the difference between Rooney and most writers is the difference between a weekend jogger and a marathon champion; between a person making a cake from the box and a skilled pastry chef turning out an exquisite dessert.
Comedians like Joe Piscopo mocked Rooney’s delivery, and often started their parodies with “Did you ever…” Rooney never started a commentary on 60 Minutes even once with those words.
But because of his storytelling skills and his way of drawing you in, it seemed like he did. The viewer felt engaged.
The respect and admiration for Rooney’s body of work reaffirms that at the heart of an increasingly challenging industry that no matter how much things change, quality storytelling is still at the heart of what good journalism does best. Above all, the story prevails.
People who get into the business for the fortune or fame tend not to last very long. People who get into the business because they have the privilege of capturing and telling stories about meaningful moments in time, whether they are tragic or joyful, devastating or inspiring, life-changing or life-affirming, these are the ones that last and are remembered.
Andy Rooney is among the finest storytellers of our generation, and there is no higher praise I can offer him.
Andy Rooney dead at age 92
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. Read more Media Migraine in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.
Copyright © 2011 by Falcon Valley Group
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