An Excerpt from “Notebooks” an unpublished
Throughout my career, I kept very careful notes, something more than
a diary of my life and times growing up. These are some excerpts
written by me when I was young. They come toward the end of the
book and they are about my first big break in the business. The
days and emotions I describe take place over a period of about
five months, the crucial time for me in the job.
It was 1959. After spending about 18 months on the film assignment
desk at night at NBC News, I was ready to move on, but to where
I had no idea. I talked to the few producers who were willing to
help me, but for the moment, they could offer me nothing. Then
came my breakthrough. October 17, 1960. There is a way! Today Reuven
Frank, producer and creator of Huntley-Brinkley, offered me a job
as contact man, reporter and field producer-- without title---for
David Brinkley in Washington. It means I’ll be Brinkley’s
right hand and Reuven’s right hand. It’s the biggest
break of my life and career. Naturally I’ll accept. Now I
have to sit and wait. We didn’t discuss money. It isn’t
that important. Reuven said it’ll be at least the same as
I make in my present job. I’ll finally get the experience
and credit I need. Reuven knows what I eventually want and I have
the feeling he won’t stand in my way. Ironically, Rex Goad,
a senior manager, turned me down for an increase today. He said
things would change for me. News was going to expand, he said.
Be patient---again--- he told me because in several months, or
shortly after the first of the year, I’ll be in line for
a new job. He said he needs me around the newsroom. So, I had a
great day. When I was lowest, one firm offer came my way and I
had the hint of another offer to come. I have a chance to be part
of a daily newscast, a great place to be. Reuven told me to wait
until he gets the papers and what he called “the head-count” in
order. I will ask Reuven when he thinks it will happen and how
much more money I can expect. Those two questions should be easy
to answer. Now, patience will be a virtue.
November 18, 1960.
I have an offer to become
a unit manager and a faster entry to production. Speak
to Reuven for his thoughts about what will
be best for me. On the surface, unit managers look better but it does
take me out of news just when I am beginning to feel I’m in the
November 25, 1960
is mine. I’ll go through the last
interviews with unit managers to keep my options open but I’m
going to Washington as David Brinkley’s assistant. Eliot Frankel,
Reuven’s number two, says he’s trying to push through
the Washington assignment for January 1, 1960. I hope they all tell
soon. I have many things to do before I can leave, including renting
my apartment, packing and moving, shutting my telephone, even saying
goodbye to my parents.
November 30, 1960
It’s official. I am going to Washington
for Reuven Frank, the 6:45 news and to work for David Brinkley.
be there immediately after the New Year.
December 2, 1960
Len Allen, who is my boss and director
of assignments at NBC News, called me to his office today.
He congratulated me on
my new assignment and told me he was angry with management for not
telling him sooner about my good fortune. He said he would like to
hold me a week longer into the New Year before I depart for Washington.
Len wants me “to break in my successor” and he said he
wants “someone with as thorough a grounding in news as I, and
my expertise in film technicalities and shipping.” Those were
his flattering words. He also said he doesn’t want another
desk assistant, copyboy, because none of the present crop is up to
Len Allen wants to go outside to hire “a capable, experienced
man from another organization in the newsfilm field.” I told
him I would do what he wants but he should speak to Reuven Frank
because I’m off to Haiti for my vacation. He said he would
waste no time in speaking to Reuven.
I booked myself into the Alban Towers in Washington on
Massachusetts Avenue, ten minutes by cab from the bureau
at WRC on Nebraska Avenue.
Should the new job scare me? New people are strange. I have to destroy
their aversions and fears. I’ll need a little time to break
January 3, 1961
I finished my first day of work in Washington.
I consider it a mild success, though I’m unhappy
with the story I edited. I’m confident I can make
it with Brinkley. I have to keep lining up story after
story, tossing them in his lap and seeing what he
takes. A few more days will tell. I have to start getting around
finding an apartment, get to know official Washington.
January 7, 1961
This is the end of my first week. I edited
all the Washington film used on the Huntley-Brinkley report.
exciting and educational. Brinkley is a strange man to work for.
getting some idea of what he wants and more clearly, what he doesn’t
want. I will propose several story ideas Monday.
January 9, 1961
So far Brinkley isn’t that difficult.
But I wonder about the job. There isn’t enough for
me to do. I’m
sure that’ll change. After working ten hours a day at top speed,
I find sitting and looking for things to do is nerve-wracking. I
get jittery and on edge when my working life is too slow
Though I have done stories in the past, I must now think about the
new audience, new angles and a new approach, especially with David
Brinkley and his touch. I’m not really Brinkley’s “man” because
he has all sorts of women working for him. They do his research. What
am I to do with my extra time? There aren’t enough feature stories
in Washington. This is a political town. It’s up to me to unmask
the politics and find the humor and human interest beneath the beat
of politics. I don’t know my way around. New York wants me to
go find things to do. I have to start reporting. Brinkley says my story
suggestions are old. I’ll find new ones, I say. First I must
get cleared to enter the White House and other important locations.
Without clearance, I can’t shoot stories. Balls. The barriers
seem impossible. Brinkley’s assistants are so damn useless. They
aren’t helpful. Worse, they are challenging me to do everything
on my own. I will.
January 10, 1961
I’m looking to do a story in Newport
News, Virginia, and another story on gambling in a small
Maryland town. The
cameramen are ready and willing to work with me and for me. They
want to shoot some decent pieces and get far away from news
and congressional hearings. I’m working harder and doing more.
January 14, 1961
I realize I’m functioning as David’s
film director, field producer and film editor. I don’t edit
the film but I supervise the film editor and work with him closely.
Wednesday I was up at five in the morning, flew to Newport News with
a film crew to do a piece at Langley Air Force base. I flew back
to Washington, edited the piece, gave David a scratch script that
and we had the story on that night. Thursday I was out at eight a.m.
Doing a story in Georgetown. I completed the shooting Friday, planned
my editing and rough script. David rewrites everything. Monday I’ll
put it together and it’ll air Monday or Tuesday night. The
directors are starting to make noise that I’m taking away their
work. The camera crews tell me the directors would love my job, though
isn’t nearly as good as theirs. David likes directors, but
he doesn’t trust their editorial judgment. Knowing that makes
my job more interesting.
January 15, 1961
Working for Brinkley is satisfying, but
I never know what he’s thinking. He’s painfully
shy with me. I don’t
know why. Or else he doesn’t want to talk. After two weeks,
I wonder whether I’ll make it. No matter, it’s good experience.
The most excitement about the job is that I direct. I tell the cameraman
what to shoot and how to shoot it. It means I have to see the sequence
of scenes in my head as I watch the story unfold. I’m having
a good time doing this. I learn from the cameramen, just as I learn
from the film editors. These people are all patient with me because
they are having a good time doing these short features, some of which
run no more than forty-five seconds. Each day, with each new process,
I learn more and undergo a new test of my ability to learn and remember.
That is hard to beat.
January 16, 1961
I’m making good progress. Brinkley
finally said he likes my work---so far. Without it said,
I know I’m on
trial. Each day it’s possible I might fail, at least with David
and Reuven. Why didn’t they make that clear to me when I came
here? Maybe that’s management’s way in news. It isn’t
honest. If this doesn’t work, they can return me to New York.
In a cardboard box or a pine coffin---it would not matter how.
January 22, 1961
In a note to Brinkley let him know that
instead of race relations, he should use integration. A
note is easier than a
conversation. But Brinkley ignored me, anyway. Call Reuven for a
long talk on whether he thinks I’ll be staying because
I do want to remain.
January 24, 1961
Tonight I had my first real, fully produced
story on the air. Reuven did not like the piece, but David
said he did. David
said he would let me know what he thinks, that is, whether he wants
me to stay by the middle or the end of the week. I want to stay in
Washington. Good or bad on last night’s story, I have done
other work here that has been good. There are some people who surround
who would sooner see me go than stay. I have the support of the camera
crews and editors but not necessarily the people on the desk, who
handle assignments. They don’t understand where I’m coming
from and contend I take needed people away from news. But Brinkley
and I get what I want because I work for Brinkley. The experience
is terrific. I need everything I can get from this job. It is goddamned
frustrating being dependent on others, most of whom I don’t
January 26, 1961
Despite his not loving my first effort,
Reuven told me he is pleased and believes the show is better
by my presence. Earlier
today David came to the editing room to tell me he wanted me to cut
all the film for the show tonight, including the confirmation hearings.
February 2, 1961
Washington continues to be beneficial.
producing, reporting, directing and writing, even if the scripts
are rough drafts for Brinkley. I’m working hard and
doing more than I dreamed. I know I have untapped talent
that will take me very far.
Others have recognized it. The job can now probably be mine for a
few years. I can handle that okay. I have to learn to ignore
some New York
Huntley Brinkley staff, what they say and how they say it. Some mean
well so I’ll practice restraint. I hope I can do it.
Reuven says it’s all but certain that I’ll be staying.
He has to sign the final papers. While training I have a great audience
in size and value. I work for and with top-flight professionals. It’s
February 6, 1961
Everything is rolling right along now
still having a ball, working hard, but not playing hard enough. There
are too few women here who interest me. It’s a dry time. I
want to get into the field more. Editing film, especially committee
no longer excites me and only after doing it for several weeks. Working
the way I do now in film is marvelous. It’s clean, good, damn
refreshing. The cameramen are starting to understand my needs and
developing a sense of style. There isn’t much you can do with
style in short features or hard news stories, but I can try to impose
some fresh ideas. Clearly my New York producers don’t always
like the way I have stories edited. Their attitude is simplistic
and stiff but they are in charge so I will comply but only to a point.
February 7, 1961
Now that Reuven Frank has said yes and
is putting through the paper work, Brinkley came by to
tell me that his decision
is “favorable, definite and unequivocal.” He said those
words in his best clipped cadence. Don’t anchors talk like
people? Anyway, I’ll remain here now to live and work, to learn
and create and maybe even write.
I’m looking into stories on the General Services Administration,
what it is, why it works or not. I’ll try to do a mood piece
about railroads in Maryland and Virginia. I have to call the Labor
Department for Arthur Goldberg’s itinerary for a possible profile.
I want to do a story about cleaning up the Potomac River, which I
gather is something that everyone wants every year.
February 9, 1961
Okay. I’m learning something new every
day. My job requires accuracy. I must be perfect in my answers
questions, whether they are about a news conference, hearing, a story
I’m working. It’s his right to know. He has the position
and experience. If I don’t give him what he wants, Brinkley
is very good at making me feel like a fool. I don’t like the
feeling. In the future I’ll write all his instructions. I’ll
make notes on everything he says and check them again before I shoot,
or edit a story. When I report to him, I’ll have no doubts
about his wishes and he’ll have all his answers. I must also
be positive in what I think of a story, especially a news conference
hearing. My news judgment will develop as I cover more stories. I’ll
give him additional information he requests, answer all his questions.
I’ll use his suggestions to change the film stories shot especially
for him. If I disagree, I’ll keep my mouth shut. I can’t
allow him to intimidate me. His tactic is to make everyone around
him feel small. I refuse to bite or have him sting me with his sarcasm.
He’s quick and clever with words. Words are his business, but
I resent it when he attacks me. I can see that we’ll never
be friends. I have no intention of becoming his friend. We’ll
never have a discussion about anything. He closes himself off to
He doesn’t want to be my friend. David Brinkley exists hidden
in the mordant hole of his self, a steel facade to the world around
him. I also know this job won’t last forever.
I now have an apartment in a great location at 1500 Massachusetts
Avenue, on the corner of 15th Street. My new home is a
very large studio (18x13)
with heavily shellacked cork floors, a small Pullman kitchen, a picture
window facing the street and a combination dressing room bathroom
for only $106.50 a month, including utilities and no security.
It has central
air conditioning, a necessity for the hot Washington summer. They
will paint. There is also a front desk that takes messages,
a laundry room
and, of course, elevators. It’s mine as quickly as I can move.
In more than a week I’ll be in my own apartment. I’ll
start feeling more like me when I can live like myself again and
be out of this deadly hotel.
I’m learning to deal with Brinkley by ignoring him and by staying
out of his way when I can. I must get inside him but something tells
me I never will. I’ll never get to know him. As a professional,
I have to learn to care for myself outside his orbit. He’s
forty-one. I am not yet twenty-seven. The bridge between us is light
is my lament about the man but not about the job. I see the job lasting
no longer than a year. Anything more than that would be fatal.
I have some thoughts on the art of the documentary. I must
deal in rhythm. Timing and pace to create a mood and direct
the viewer where
I want him to go is everything. Sometimes open a sequence hard by
using swift cuts. Then pull back wide and build soft dissolves
the audience’s mind by giving them warmth and passion. Always
seize the mind. Wrench the heart. Move the soul. Stir the blood.
Activate the eyes. Quicken the pulse. Allow the audience to be Lazarus
himself. Then strike him down. Do it gently or harshly as dictated
by the look and feel of the film. Manipulate when you must unless
the material defies manipulation. Just in case I ever get the chance
do my own work.
March 9, 1961
I have come to realize that news as news
for me is deadly and unrewarding. Washington is probably
worse than most places. Although
the news constantly changes, it has a pattern that never deviates.
Mostly, though, in Washington, it’s about things, not people.
When people are not part of the story, the event for me is useless.
It is nothing. Reuven Frank and Eliot Frankel say they want stories
about people. Brinkley does not. Brinkley wins. Time and patience
must be my mantra. David is lazy, brilliant, inventive. Before I
piece, I always ask what tack are you taking today. He says he doesn’t
know yet. Then he tells me to cut it the way I think best. I call
him to look at the edited version and he says that isn’t what
he wanted. What do you want, I ask? He shakes his head. I say why
you tell me? He frowns, turns around and walks out of the editing
room. Big help. It’s as if he wants me to read his mind. Brinkley
does compliment me. He has thanked me twice. I’ll never treat
anyone who works for me the way he treats people, especially me.
We are from
different worlds. Brinkley gets angry with me in public when I want
to know what he wants. Other staffers in Washington who know David
and his methods ask me how long can I take it? I tell them I have
to take it because my future is in a job controlled by the confines
his mind. David is not the center of the world. When I try entering
his world as a professional, he seals it off. I’m building
friendships out of sympathy. Now I have to build relationships out
of trust. I
don’t rant, rave or scream at him now. In ten months I might.
March 12, 1961
I want to make films that will sparkle
with the zest of life and scream the raw edged, harsh reality
of truth. I want them
to be gentle, melodic and flowing. The films should possess the spirit
of fate. I’m searching through the eye of the camera. I must
feel the subject I’m exploring and the camera must have faith
in what I’m doing.
March 14, 1961
Television documentaries are almost all
alike. The camera work is usually good but not outstanding.
I see the same shots
and the same rhythm in the editing. There must be a universal template
that television producers use. Pacing is limited and unimaginative,
except in the use of sound. The talking head rules. We hear what
we should be seeing, and the heads talk about what they
saw or knew. Film
should show and it should have a brief explanation by a voice behind
the picture or by a voice on the scene. The on-camera talker should
rarely have a role. Documentaries on television rely too much on
the ear and not enough on the eye. Television documentaries
true film documentary. They are distinct mediums.
Note: By November 1961 after months of the same daily grind
with an unapproachable boss, I decided I had my fill of
working for David Brinkley.
I had learned much under his guidance as strange as it was and I
had confidence in my ability and my journalism. I sent
a note to Reuven
Frank and told him I will resign by the end of the year because Brinkley
ignored me and often treated me with disdain. I knew he did that
with almost everyone on his staff. I was young, and prepared
to move elsewhere,
where ever that might be. I did not care. After a long telephone
call, Reuven said you can leave Washington but I will bring
you back to New
York as a writer to work on the Huntley-Brinkley Report in New York.
I told Brinkley I was leaving and he merely grunted in his usual
open manner, good-bye and good luck. By January 1962, I
was back in New
York and on my way to what would be for me a long, fruitful, exciting
and prosperous career at NBC News.
began his career at 23 at NBC News and spent 35 years at
the network. He moved from copyboy to producing segments
writing for the Huntley-Brinkley Report, first in Washington and
then in New York then on to field producer for the newsmagazine
show Chet Huntley Reports. He produced documentaries and worked
on specials, including space coverage, before being named NBC's
Bureau Chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War. He also served as
Bureau Chief in Hong Kong and London before returning to New York
to oversee the network's news specials. In 1975 he joined the Today
Show where he spent 11 years in a number of senior producing positions
in Washington and New York. After leaving NBC News he worked for
5 years as a freelance producer for ABC, among other things, he
wrote and produced a series of A&E Biography one hour documentaries
on O.J. Simpson, Malcolm X, Colin Powell, Timothy McVeigh, LBJ,
Frank Sinatra, Nelson Rockefeller, James Earl Ray, and Jim Jones.
He also produced for the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel.
He produced 3 of the highly rated 6 part series for the Learning
Channel on the Vietnam War called The Soldier's Story, first broadcast
in October 1998, and the follow up "Missing in Action.",
which has won a National Headliner Award and an International Documentary
Festival Award. He is also the author of the book, "The Soldier's
Story" published in 1999 by TV Books, and now by Barnes & Noble,
and "Women in the Vietnam" published by TV Books in July,
2000. The University of Missouri Press published his memoir "Inside
Television's First War: A Saigon Journal" in October 2002.
Steinman has won a Peabody Award, a National Press Club award,
two American Women in Radio & Television Awards, two Chris
Awards and been nominated for five Emmies. His latest documentary
film,"Luboml: My Heart Remembers,"a Douglas/Steinman
Production, aired on PBS' WILW/21 in the New York metropolitan
area April 29, 2003 at 10 pm.