Aaron Brown Takes a Wide Angle on TV News
Aaron Brown by Bettina Hansen/ASU
Former CNN anchor Aaron Brown
has always tried to stay on the high road during his career. That wasn't so easy as cable news went on a tabloid spree (before its recent addiction to presidential politics). Starting this week, Brown is back on the air as anchor of the PBS' Wide Angle
. The summer documentary series digs deep into international stories in a way you won't see on commercial news outlets (check out the lineup here
). In the fall, Brown returns to his other new job as a journalism professor at Arizona State University. He recently brought the Biz up to speed on his post-CNN life. TVGuide.com: What do you like best about your new situation?
The joy of the PBS audience is that they want to know stuff. It's not that they are smarter. I've never thought that. I just think they are more patient with the journalistic learning process. They want to know stuff and they don't need to know it in the first five seconds. They are not sitting there with the remote control in their hand. TVGuide.com: The traveling you're doing for Wide Angle is taking you back to your years at ABC News. When they said get on the plane and go, you went.
I got on the plane and went every time everywhere for the eight years I worked for Peter Jennings. I just feel like I did that again the last two days. But it's fine. I had enough of one time. It's kind of like a cramp it's OK if you know it ends. If you thought it was chronic pain, you'd kill yourself. (In September) I go back in a classroom with kids I love. It's a shock to me that I ended up in an academic setting. It's helpful to remember I never went to college. TVGuide.com: What's your initial reaction to your students' impressions about how the TV journalism business works? Is it a bit of a shock to you?
Yes. Their view of the business is very broad. They see it all as "the business," as everything from the Travel Channel to ABC. I saw the business when I was their age as the networks and local TV. Their view of television is much broader. They are also incredibly cynical. A lot of that has to do with the Iraq war. They just saw journalism failing. It's not really their fault, but they haven't seen a lot. A lot of what I do is showing them things. It's a history class in many ways. Twenty-year old kids have never seen (TV footage) of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. How can a high school history teacher not have shown them that? The medium of television news was born that weekend. It's amazing the stuff they haven't seen. Their world begins at Columbine. TVGuide.com: What do they gain from seeing what came before that event?
Understanding where the business came from, how it changes events, how events change it, how technology changes both, is important. That's what I teach. The fact that I lived a fair hunk of it is helpful, because I'm really honest with them about the good and bad of it. TVGuide.com: You've certainly experienced the good and the bad.
Yeah. I was on a rooftop on the best day our business ever had on 9/11 and I was in the chair Robert Blake was arrested for murdering his wife. The joy in my life now is whatever else there is going to be, there are not going to be any more Anna Nicole Smiths or Robert Blakes in my life. TVGuide.com: The cable news business sort of shifted under your feet in the years you were in it. You were hired as a guy who could report and anchor live for hours, but the business became more about personalities.
I think it did. Fox found its audience and the business was redefined as a business that loved or needed big broad opinionated personalities. When you look at what's successful on cable, that's what it is. Whether its Keith Olbermann, or Lou Dobbs or Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity they tend to be big broad opinion guys. I was a news anchor of a different time. The people that I admired and taught me my craft were very traditional news anchors. Peter Jennings was the best news anchor ever born, not withstanding, he was a traditional news anchor. Before that the people I admired were reporters who became anchors. That's how I saw myself. That's how I thought I should do the job. If I sat down to do the job tomorrow, I'd do it exactly the same way.