Wallace and Knobel make book on journalism

“Heat and Light: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists,” by Mike Wallace and Beth Knobel. Random House, 2010. 288 pp. $14.

After his almost 70-year-long career in broadcast journalism, consider the recently released “Heat and Light: Advice for the Next Generation of Journalists” another of the journalistic gifts from the iconic Mike Wallace, a lifelong seasonal Vineyard Haven resident now retired from public life. The famed interviewer of CBS’s “60 Minutes,” who made world leaders squirm, collaborated with Emmy-award winning journalist Beth Knobel, former CBS Moscow bureau chief, to create this how-to mission statement for prospective journalists.

“Mike really helped me conceive of the book in terms of what we should cover, and what might be useful to young people who might want to do the type of journalism he did in his career,” says Ms. Knobel, professor of journalism at Fordham University.

She speaks with enthusiasm about the collaboration: “One of the interesting things about writing this book was trying to get Mike to step back from the way that he does journalism to look at the process more carefully. What he does comes so naturally to him that it was actually a real challenge for him to say, ‘Let me stop and think about this for a minute. How do I do this?’”

Ms. Knobel, who spent 20 years as an on-air correspondent and television producer, says working with the 92-year-old Mr. Wallace was “really a once in a lifetime experience…People who don’t know him would be surprised to know how self-deprecating Mike could be. When we were working together on the book he was a pussy cat.”

The two worked together in Moscow where she lived for 14 years, working as Bureau Chief for CBS, when Mr. Wallace came to interview Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsen.

Ms. Knobel got the idea for “Heat and Light” in 2007, when she invited Mr. Wallace to speak to her class at Fordham. “He opened up a dialogue with the students, and started talking about journalism and life and death and what’s important in life,” she says.

The title of the book, “Heat and Light,” comes from Mr. Wallace. “That’s Mike’s conception of what good journalism is in a nutshell,” Ms. Knobel says. “The heat being the drama and the light being the ability to reveal new information.”

The softbound primer begins with “The Fundamentals of Great Journalism,” followed by chapters outlining elements of journalism for print and broadcast: how to prepare; how to compose the lede, the differences between print and broadcast journalism; and the skills that have to be developed — checklists, techniques, and resources for journalists such as interviews, questions and writing.

It includes many anecdotes from the authors’ experiences, how to balance technological advances without sacrificing traditional journalistic traditions, and of course, the art of the interview.

“I always taught and thought of interviews as conversations,” Ms. Knobel says. “And Mike said, ‘Interviews aren’t a conversation. They are a negotiation. You want something as a journalist, and the person speaking to you wants something. They want to get their point of view out, or get accurate information to reach the public, but they always want something, and if you figure out what they want, it helps you get what you want.’”

The book concludes with a chapter on law and ethics and the future of journalism. “At a time when our national discourse is getting more shallow, and people want things faster and quicker than ever before,” Ms. Knobel says, “it’s really worthwhile to spend some time telling young journalists that no matter how they are going to deliver their message, it’s all about accuracy, fairness, balance, and the objectivity and the quality of what they do. It’s about truthfulness and ethical behavior.”

She continues, “We tried to write the book that we would have liked to have ourselves when we were young journalists.”

Fordham Professor Beth Knobel will be the featured speaker at Falmouth Academy, Thursday, Nov. 18 at 7:00 pm during The Falmouth Academy Community Series. Free and open to the public. 508-457-9696.