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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Garrick Utley, RIP

Long-time TV journalist Garrick Utley died Thursday. He was the principal correspondent for foreign affairs at NBC News when 40% of American households watched the Huntley-Brinkley Report, later called the NBC Nightly News. Later he moved to ABC and CNN.

I always liked Utley. He was erudite, and he successfully walked the line between being witty and being serious. He could compress complex issues into a 30-second report that communicated the essence of the situation without missing any of the primary elements of the story or being distracted by secondary elements. Most importantly, he was credible. When Utley said that the government of country X was about to do such-and-such, or the people of country Y were about to revolt, or the military of country Z was losing a war, you knew that he was reporting factually.

Foreign affairs, or as we now say international affairs, have always appealed to me. Perhaps it was because I had seen enough of domestic news. I've blogged before that growing up in Montgomery, Ala., the local news and the national news were often the same and often unpleasant to watch. Whatever the reason, I had gotten a shortwave radio and an amateur radio license by 15. Along with reporters like Utley, those were my windows into the world. A linguistics professor at LSU put together a 2-hour program over Radio Canada International on how to identify a foreign language from simply listening to it. I taped it and still have the tapes somewhere, although the program is now available on CD. I am not a polyglot, but I know a little of a lot of languages and it's been a great help in my career to be able to tell the difference right away between Spanish and Portuguese, German and Dutch, or Chinese and Japanese. Later I fulfilled my language requirement at Georgia Tech by taking courses in linguistics.

Utley and I are also members of the prostate cancer brotherhood.

I am blogging today from a hotel in an unusually sunny London. The world is a lot smaller today than when Utley began his job at NBC in 1963; journalists like him and the late Peter Jennings played a part in shrinking the world. See more here and here.