Veteran news executive Bill Small passed away on Sunday after a brief illness unrelated to the coronavirus. The former CBS News Washington Bureau Chief, NBC News President, United Press International President and Chairman of the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, was 93.
Small served as CBS’ Washington Bureau Chief from 1962 to 1974 and formed a team of journalists that would go on to dominate political coverage throughout the era of the Vietnam War and Watergate. The roster he recruited from within CBS included Marvin Kalb, Dan Rather, Harry Reasoner, Dan Schorr and Eric Sevareid. New hires at the time, CBS said, included Bob Schieffer, Ed Bradley, Bernard Shaw, Bernard Kalb and Bill Moyers. CBS also noted Small championed the hiring of women including Lesley Stahl, Diane Sawyer, Connie Chung, Susan Zirinsky, Martha Teichner, Rita Braver and Susan Spencer.
“Bill Small was a hero to journalism,” said CBS News president Zirinsky in a statement. “He hired me as a 20 year-old college student to work the weekend desk in the Washington Bureau two weeks after the Watergate break-in. He was tough as nails when it came to defending freedom of the press. He was strict, strong, and full of conviction. But the man had a heart of gold — which he only revealed one-third of the time. His daughter, Tamar Small, reminded me tonight that Bill always said, ‘The Washington Bureau and CBS News Division is an organization that remains the pinnacle of journalistic integrity.’ Every one of us carries Bill Small’s legacy with us — it’s core to who we are as journalists.”
In 1979, Small was named President of NBC News, bringing with him CBS correspondents Roger Mudd and Marvin Kalb, among others. He facilitated the transition of Tom Brokaw from host of the Today Show to co-anchor, along with Mudd when John Chancellor stepped down in 1982. He also oversaw coverage of the Iran hostage crisis and the election of Ronald Reagan.
In 1982, Small became President of UPI, and from 1986 to 1999 he was the Felix E. Larkin Professor of Communications at Fordham University, where he developed an MBA program in media management. From 1992 to 1994, he served as a Dean of Fordham’s Graduate School of Business. And from 2000 to 2010, Small was Chairman of News and Documentary for the National Academy of Television Arts and Science.
“Bill Small was one of the ‘greats’ of our television news industry. In his time as a news executive at both NBC and CBS, he had an uncanny eye for talent and unwavering dedication to journalism,” said NATAS Chairman Terry O’Reilly. “In his decade as Chair of our News and Documentary Emmy Awards, he was responsible for many important improvements — including introducing the Lifetime Achievement Award for News and Documentary television, an award he was to receive himself in 2014.”
NATAS President and CEO Adam Sharp added, “As a bureau chief, network president, NATAS leader, and newsman to the core, Bill Small mentored some the greatest television news talent to ever grace the airwaves, and he brought the same incomparable zeal and commitment to excellence to developing our National Office staff. He was a titan of television journalism, nurturing the first amendment in many a fledgling reporter and guiding the coverage of some of the seminal moments of our country’s history. The Academy and the broadcast news industry has lost one of its seminal heroes. We extend our prayers and condolences to his family and to all those gifted by his gracious tutelage.”
Roger Mudd, in his 2009 book The Place to Be: Washington, CBS, And The Glory Days Of Television News, described the CBS Washington bureau of the time as so dominating “the network’s news division that it became almost an independent duchy.” NATAS noted that Small oversaw distinguished coverage of some of the most important and historic events of the second half of the twentieth century: The assassination and funeral of John F. Kennedy; the Civil Rights Movement including the March on Washington and the filibuster of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the Senate; the escalation of the war in Vietnam and its impact in Washington; President Nixon’s trip to China; and Watergate.
Small himself was the author of two award-winning books, “To Kill a Messenger: Television And The Real World” and “Political Power And The Press.” He served as the National President of the Radio-TV News Directors Association and the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi as well as being on the Executive Board of the National Association of Broadcasters and the Washington Journalism Center.
Along with the Lifetime Achievement Emmy, among the many awards Small received were the James Madison Award of the National Broadcast Editorial Association, the Paul White Award of the Radio-TV News Directors Association and the Wells Key Award of the Society of Professional Journalists. He twice received the Society’s Distinguished Service Award for Research in Journalism.
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