MORE THAN GREAT JOURNALISM: Why Bob Simon will be missed

by Steve Dunlop

As news broke of Bob Simon's untimely death in a car accident on Manhattan's West Side, the superlatives started ricocheting around the Twittersphere, all of them richly deserved.   Great journalist.  Fearless reporter.  Winner of 27 Emmys.  A gentleman. 

 Bob Simon, veteran  60 Minutes  correspondent, 1941-2015.   Image by John Paul Filo/CBS News.

Bob Simon, veteran 60 Minutes correspondent, 1941-2015.   Image by John Paul Filo/CBS News.

The word "gentleman" hit home with me because it described Simon's persona precisely.  And it made me reflect on how TV news today identifies and nurtures its top prospects.   Recent events have made it clear that we are not turning out enough Bob Simons. 

Electronic journalism is stereotyped for thriving on the pretty face, male or female.  An entire industry of agents and talent scouts exists on the periphery of the industry, looking for that perfect mix of the "Q" score, developed by Long Island market researcher Jack Landis in 1963. 

"Q" stands for quotient - in this case, the quotient between the "familiarity" and "likeability" of a brand.   According to this formula, a product can be highly familiar but not very likeable - or, conversely, highly likeable but not widely recognized.   And both will score roughly the same "Q."

Bob Simon entered network television in the 1960's, just a few years before the Q score began to migrate from selling dishwashers into evaluating newspeople.  One wonders if someone as intelligent and courtly as Simon would have made the cut today. 

Simon was raised in the Bronx during the 1940's.  He was the only child of Jewish parents.   His German father worked in a bank, but it was his Russian mother, an accountant, who introduced him to libraries "even before I could read," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2003. 

Simon did not yearn to be a TV star.  He yearned for knowledge, which would later drive his journalist's curiosity.   He was accepted to Brandeis University and majored, not in communications or television, but in history.   He graduated Phi Beta Kappa.  He went on to become a Fulbright Scholar, a Woodrow Wilson scholar, and an officer in the American Foreign Service.  

But the ivory tower was not what he wanted.  On joining CBS in 1967, Simon plunged right into covering campus unrest and inner city riots.  From there his assignments only became more perilous.  By talent and temperament, he could have been one of "Murrow's boys," although he was born too late to have actually been among them. 

I will leave it to those who knew Bob Simon better than I did to chronicle his journalistic accomplishments.   Suffice it to say that for the electronic version of the Fourth Estate, my biggest worry is its reliance on a system that is not nurturing new Bob Simons.  His unique brand of courtliness and professionalism doesn't often find its way onto the screen anymore.   Barely does it find its way into society.