Back in the day. long before the world changed, the company I worked for owned United Press International. Old Man Scripps started UPI because the stuffy country-club newspaper owners had started the Associated Press -- a cooperative of newspapers that shared their reporting.
Scripps was an outsider, an ass-kicking populist, and certainly not part of any cozy club. And he was not inclined to share squat. But he would love to sell it to you -- hence the UPI business model of selling news to subscribers.
Scripps, through his newspapers and wire services and radio and TV stations, spawned some great journalists. They all shared the same DNA, genetic traits that stayed with them throughout their lives. The strain that seemed to characterize all of us was a kick-your-ass, get-it-first competitiveness. It was the heart and soul of our business, and it defined our organization and who we were as individuals. (There was also, almost conversely, a genteelness -- a polite and courtly manner that often disguised the drive. Just think of legends like Bob Consodine and Ernie Pyle.)
Courtly Uncle Walter Cronkite learned the trade as a reporter for UPI. He was that gracious Teddy Bear we watched on TV each night, but as these remembrances -- and as most of his obituaries -- note, his career was fueled by a ferocious competitive drive.
Although he left Scripps to work for other companies, he was always part of us, always involved tangentially in the company, just as other Scripps expatriates were. There was something about The Concern, as it was known, that marked you for life. Like a family, you were part of it forever, and it was -- is -- part of you.
There was a time when getting the story first was really important -- more than really important. Readers knew if who reported a story first. So did competitors, and sources. Being the first with a story was more than a matter of pride -- it was a matter of survival.
Uncle Walter was a product of that time. He had the wisdom to retire on top, before all the rules changed. Here's hoping that DNA lives on in what passes for newsrooms today.
More from Salon: Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009