One of the Originals  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   September 1999

One of the Originals   

By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (robertson.lori@gmail.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      


Martin Agronsky, newspaper reporter, radio correspondent and longtime television correspondent, died July 25 of congestive heart failure at the age of 84. His "Agronsky & Company" television program, which enjoyed an 18-year run until Agronsky's retirement in January 1988, was one of the first journalists-as-talking-heads shows. The syndicated program was a successful, serious, low-noise predecessor to the shoutfests of today. It featured a cast of regulars, including Hugh S. Sidey, now a contributor to Time and formerly a correspondent and Washington bureau chief for the magazine; the late Peter Lisagor, a Chicago Daily News correspondent; and columnists Carl Rowan, James J. Kilpatrick, Elizabeth Drew and George Will. Sidey talked to AJR about what made "Agronsky & Company" so special and what sets it apart from the current swarm of political talk shows.

"I think the first thing is, it was first of its particular nature..the first in which you gathered working reporters off the beat and had them sit down and discuss, and exchanging back and forth ideas, challenging one another. So it had its own flavor... And Martin was its patriarch... He was a true shoe-leather reporter. He also had opinions, of course. As time went on, those opinions came out more and more...

"There was tremendous chemistry [among the guests]. It was a good mix..but all people who were rather devoted to finding the facts out before they talked... I can remember many a program when we came straight from reporting the story... We came right out of the trenches. I'm not saying that doesn't happen now..but not with the same frequency... I would often come from being with the president... I would not reveal the news on the show but would use the flavor of it and explain a little tidbit here and there... We would give firsthand reports about it, and then we'd chew that around a little bit...

"Show business had really not invaded our world back then. The object was to try to get the facts out.. The idea was not to shout down anybody... I think another reason for its success was the nature of the times... We had real, real problems, explosive problems, security problems--and the discussions, I think, reflected that gravity... Compared to today, a lot of this stuff [today] is pretty frivolous..the kind of melding here between entertainment and journalism... The nature of those times was quite different, and I think that helped out the program a great deal as well as the people on it."

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