Voice of America:
Lowell Thomas and the Rise of Broadcast News
If you watch a newscast today, download a news video, listen to the radio or a podcast then you are benefiting from the work of Lowell Thomas.
In the 1930’s Lowell Thomas was arguably more famous than any American journalist has ever been. Thomas dominated both network radio news and the newsreels shown in movie theaters back when they represented the only chance a mass national audience had to hear or see, rather then just read, the news. His voice, face and take on contemporary events were almost unavoidable.
Lowell Thomas – a creative, entrepreneurial, technologically savvy figure – helped create Twentieth Century American journalism: mostly nonpartisan, sober, portentous, cosmopolitan but still mildly xenophobic. In the process, he helped determine how America saw the world in that century in which America dominated the world.
Thomas - quite the swashbuckling adventurer -- took American audiences with him on the radio and in newsreels, helped established personality driven journalism and reported, earlier than any of his colleagues, from around the world.
During the First World War, Thomas traveled to the Middle East and discovered T.E. Lawrence, the man upon whom he bestowed an outsized and inextinguishable celebrity as Lawrence of Arabia.
Indeed, before helping invent radio and television journalism, Thomas put together – in 1919 – what may qualify as the world's first multi-media production: his presentation on Lawrence in Arabia -- employing film, photos, music and narration, and he showed it to two million people around the world. The fame Thomas brought Lawrence helped him acquire an important role in the conferences that drew up new borders and implanted new monarchies in the Middle East – borders and regimes whose consequences we are still dealing with today.
Thomas was a role model for intrepid foreign correspondents today like Anderson Cooper and Richard Engel. The man who helped invent this way of reporting and telling the news was the Indiana Jones of journalism: crashing planes, falling from horses, staring down rifles but always coming back with the story. His stories, both beloved and belittled for their grandiosity, shaped American knowledge of the world and influenced foreign policy.
Thomas was educating the country about the world right before the Second World War – when America’s involvement in the world would prove perhaps most crucial. Later he courageously managed to slip into Tibet, where he interviewed the Dalai Lama just before the Chinese invaded.
In due course his enterprising zeal led him to found Capital Cities, which eventually bought ABC before being sold itself to Disney for 17 Billion dollars .
Journalism in this country and around the world continues to follow his model: aggressive, entrepreneurial, unabashed, technologically advanced.
Lowell Thomas’ journalism is the journalism many today describe– sometimes bitterly, sometimes reverently – as “traditional journalism.” In many ways he was – as the host of the dominant newsreels – the original deep voiced omnipotent journalistic narrator: the first “voice of god.” But his journalism was not always traditional. This documentary will tell the story of its creation.