Mentored Walter Cronkite?
The late Walter
Cronkite covered virtually every major news event
during his more than 60 years in journalism--having spent the majority of those years affiliated with CBS News. He was anchorman and managing
editor of the CBS Evening News for nearly 19 years,
and was a special correspondent for CBS News since
1981. He has been called the "most trusted man
I went to San Jacinto High School in Houston, Texas,
in the 1930s, and was fortunate to come in contact with
a man who would inspire me to become a career print
and broadcast journalist. Fred Birney was a pioneer
in high school journalism. Very few high schools at
that time even taught journalism, and many schools didn't
have their own student newspaper.
Fred talked the Houston Board of Education into allowing
him to teach a journalism class once a week at three
local high schools, one of which was San Jacinto. He
was a newspaperman of the old school and taught us a
great deal about reporting and writing. He also became
a sponsor of the San Jacinto High School newspaper,
the Campus Cub. Under his tutelage, we published
it monthly, whereas it had previously been published
in a casual manner, just three or four times a year.
During my junior year, I was the sports editor of the
Campus Cub and its chief editor in my senior
At the time, I was an avid reader of American Boy
magazine, which was composed of a series of short
stories to inspire boys to follow certain careers. I
remember reading an article about mining engineers.
I wish I had read an article about petroleum engineering
in Texas in the 1930s instead of becoming interested
in mineral mining. So here I was about to graduate,
and I was torn between becoming a mining engineer and
a journalist. Things could have been a lot different
for me without Fred.
He was well-connected with the three newspapers in Houston.
During the summer of my junior year, he secured his
interested students jobs as copy boys and girls with
the Houston Post. Then, after I graduated in
1933, I became the campus correspondent for the Houston
Post at the University of Texas at Austin and worked
at the college paper, the Daily Texan, working
my way up to become its editor. My sophomore year I
got a weekend job working as an exalted copy boy for
the International News Service at the state capitol,
but I was also asked to cover committee meetings of
the state legislature...
In 1950 I was hired by CBS, and became further involved
in radio and television.
Fred Birney wouldn't admire the type of journalism going
on today. He was always big on journalistic integrity.
"You've got to remember that everyone you write
about is a human being," he would tell us, "not
just a headline."
We exchanged several letters until his death, shortly
after my high school graduation. He taught me so much
in those high school classes, and by securing me those
early jobs, he cemented my desire to be a reporter for
the rest of my life. He was my major inspiration. I
always credit Fred Birney for my career.
from The Person Who Changed My Life: Prominent Americans
Recall Their Mentors. Matilda
Raffa Cuomo, Editor, with foreword by Sen. Hillary Rodham