Allen's Blog

Edwin Newman: Newsman and Defender of the English Language

Watching NBC Nightly News last evening, I learned of the death, in England at age 91, of Edwin Newman. Whether or not his name rings a bell will have have much to do with your age. Mr. Newman was certainly a great NBC newsman, in roles as diverse as Today show anchor, drama critic, foreign bureau chief, and moderator of presidential debates.

But just as importantly, at least for me, he was a strong defender of the English language and its correct usage, both spoken and in print. In reading the New York Times obituary, I saw that his first job in journalism was as a “dictation boy” in the Washington bureau of one of the wire services. That resonated for me, since my first New York broadcast news job was as a “copy boy” at NBC News. They called us “desk assistants,” but copy boys is what we were – clearing the AP and UPI teleprinters, running for coffee, answering phones, being as helpful as we could without getting in the way, and being paid 60 dollars a week in the process. Of course, in those days of the early ’60s, that meant I could afford my own apartment.

Edwin Newman was one of the people I delivered copy to during the few months I worked at NBC, before moving to CBS where I stayed for several years, eventually directing a number of broadcasts. Long after I left broadcast news for print photojournalism, I shot many cover stories for the magazine Saturday Review, and one of them, in 1975, was on Edwin Newman.

Edwin Newman atop Rockefeller Center

I photographed him for the cover on the observation deck of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, then (as now) the headquarters of NBC News. We probably were together, at various locations, for no more than a couple of hours, but I do remember that we talked mostly about his love of words and the books he had published and was currently working on. His earliest experiences, starting at the lowest possible rung of the journalism ladder, were still important memories for him; and as I write this, I can absolutely remember the look and feel of the NBC newsroom, on the 5th floor at 30 Rock. Everyone wore suits and ties (it was an overwhelmingly male environment), and most smoked. And when I was sent to chase down an errant writer or reporter, the first place to look was Hurley’s bar, downstairs at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 49th Street (also known at ‘Studio 1H’).

Now, Hurley’s is long gone, and there are network correspondents on the air every night who have no memory of Edwin Newman. Take the time to read his obituary, and look for his books at the library or at Amazon.