Let's talk about journalism. Let's hear it for Richard Harding Davis, for William Allen White, for Woodward and Bernstein. And let's add the names Brent Musburger and Van Sauter and see how that sounds.
Musburger, the sports announcer, and Sauter, the president of CBS sports, are paired here, for the fun of it, with reporter Hildy Johnson and editor Walter Burns of "Front Page" fame, because they symbolize the much talked-about changes in the works at CBS sports. These appear to have been given a significant push with the recent word that Sauter has succeeded in persuading Musburger to stay on at CBS through 1985.
Musburger had been considering an offer to go to ABC. He was thinking that a career in sports television could be capped by working on the one blockbuster sports event available only to ABC people: the 1984 Olympics at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, and Los Angeles.
Money helped him stay at CBS. (Reports that Musburger will be making more than $500,000 a year were greeted with this comment by Beano Cook, CBS publicity man: "That salary makes him equal with the 11th man on the San Antonio Spurs' roster).
But money wasn't the key reason. When it came down to it, Sauter said, Musburger went for the extra dimension that CBS sports will open up to him. "I think what swung it our way is that he is an individual who has roots in journalism. He saw the opportunity to participate in the planning and generating of stories, contributing both on and off the camera. We offered him that extra dimension that he wasn't going to get elsewhere."
The CBS commitment to sports journalism first was heralded with the signing of Sauter, a man with a news background in newspapers and radio. Next step is restructuring CBS' weekend anthology show. The name Sports Spectacular, which became too synonymous with trash sports, will be dropped in recognition of some kind of sports newsreel of the air built around the usual schedule of weekend afternoon sports. That will be marked by the continued phasing out of trash sports (so long, all you cheerleaders, wrist wrestlers and refrigerator lifters).
CBS might put on a weekend afternoon menu that includes basketball, boxing and golf.Around that would be inserted some profiles, news updates and a takeout on a particularly timely news development of the week.
How would that differ from ABC's Wide World of Sports?
"We would hope to do the news stories in more depth, not just a superficial wraparound," Musburger said. "I hope nobody sounds trumpets or raises high the roof beams on this because I think it might take three years for this to work. We hope to go along steadily and gain respect."
Sauter gave Musburger his first break in radio when the young man from Montana was a sports columnist in Chicago. He has overseen some important moves in Musburger's career. The network wanted to keep him, Sauter said, "because there is a paucity of people his age wih his talents in this business. Brent's knowledgeable, effective and has a journalistic background. We needed him in terms of one aspect -- journalism -- that we wanted to pursue at this network."
Musburger said his faith in Sauter was a big factor in remaining with CBS."I want to see if we can make it work. And when we came down to it, I was not so sure that I should let the desire to cover one event, the Olympics, sway me. With Russian tanks poised on the Polish border right now, you never know what's going to happen with the Olympics."
Musburger threw around the word journalism as if it has never been practiced in sports TV. What about the other networks?
He answered: "Well, Howard Cosell has done excellent interviews and has had a strong point of view, but there hasn't been any strong reporting out on an issue, airing different viewpoints on a controversial issue. I think we will approach stories in journalistic fashion. I think we will generate animosities. People in sports are used to critical stories in newspapers, but not by television. I think we will show a journalistic capability."
In Musburger's mind, the CBS effort down the road would be ready for an event such as the recent Roberto Duran-Ray Leonard fight. "Even though we didn't have the rights to telecast the fight," he said, "we would have cameras at New Orleans for the fight and the postfight interviews. We would have an interpretor there if needed to talk to Duran. We would stick with Duran after the fight, find out why he did waht he did, if he felt remorse. When he gives out an interview later in Miami, we would have a camera crew there just as we would in a news event. We would dispatch a camera crew to Panama to check out the reaction to Duran there. We would handle it like CBS news handles a political story . . ."
In Sauter's view, journalism is one aspect of what CBS sports will be doing. "We are not hanging our hat on journalism alone," he said. "We are looking into acquiring rights to other events and hoping to improve our technical facilities. But sports journalism is one place where networks will have to go, because viewers will be increasingly looking for more. Cable and local TV are very active now; it's not illogical that pay cable consortiums will be active bidders for sports rights and we have to find a way to provide an extra dimension. Journalism is a part of that of even if people won't tune in, saying, 'Let's see journalism.' It will be an added quality . . ."
What it means is an added budget for sports at CBS, with more reporters and producers and camera crews. There is a great expectations aura about it all that is worth following. Surely, the ghosts of Richard Harding Davis and friends will be looking with interest at the new assault by Sauter, Musbuger and CBS on The Sporting Life.