On Edward Bliss Jr.

By MERVIN BLOCK

THOUGHTS ON HIS LIFE
— NOV. 27, 2002

A revered figure in broadcast news, Ed Bliss, died on Nov. 25, 2002. He was 90 years old.

Less than three weeks earlier, Ed had traveled to New York City to sign a book contract for the manuscript he had written about his late wife’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. But shortly after Ed returned to his home in Alexandria, Virginia, he was hospitalized with the chronic lung ailment that took his life.

Not long ago, I wrote a brief bio of Ed, who was formally identified as Edward Bliss, Jr. He was so proud of his father that he cherished his Juniority--and that comma. I wrote the bio for a British publisher who was putting together what he called the Encyclopedia of the World’s Press. The project seems to be on hold, but I see no need to hold Ed’s bio.

In the depths of the Depression, 1935, Ed Bliss borrowed his father's Ford and drove from town to town in Ohio looking for work on a newspaper. He drove so far, you might say he was a journeyman even before he became an apprentice.

Ed had decided to go into journalism while in his last year at Yale. After graduation he moved [from Connecticut] to Ohio, where his parents had retired.

Eventually, Ed's persistence--and promise--landed him his first reporting job, on the Bucyrus (Ohio) Telegraph-Forum. For $6 a week. On the side, he worked as a stringer for the Toldeo (Ohio) Blade. The Blade paid him by the column inch, and he was able to make an extra $1.50 or so a week. With that experience, he obtained a job on the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen.

His first beat included the state prison, and after he saw his first execution, he wrote, unsolicited, an editorial opposing capital punishment. He set the editorial on his editor's desk, and the next day, it was printed as the paper's lead editorial. In his six years in Columbus, Ohio's capital, Ed worked as reporter, state editor, book (and film) reviewer and columnist.

In 1943, he joined CBS News in New York City as a writer for the radio network.

He moved up to night editor, then writer-producer for Edward R. Murrow. Bliss later served as an assistant to the president of CBS News before becoming editor of the television network's "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite."

As any writer (including this one) who worked for him on that program can attest, Ed was a stickler for good grammar, good writing and good journalism.

Ed left CBS News in 1968 to found the broadcast journalism program at American University in Washington, D.C.; he retired in 1977 as a full professor. But he remained active as a broadcast news consultant.

He edited In Search of Light: The Broadcasts of Edward R. Murrow, New York: Knopf, 1967. And he wrote three books: Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, and (with James L. Hoyt) a college textbook, Writing News for Broadcast, 3d ed., New York: Columbia University Press, 1994, and Beyond the Stone Arches: An American Missionary Doctor in China, 1892-1932, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2001.

That doctor was Ed's father, also a Yale alumnus. And China is where Ed was born. In Fuzhou, 1912. There he spent his first nine years.

Among his honors: the leading organization of college journalism teachers, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, selected him in 1984 as the year's Distinguished Broadcast Journalism Educator.

Every year, the Radio-Television News Directors Association bestows its highest honor on a prominent professional: Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, Walter Cronkite (twice). And, in 1993, for his contributions to electronic journalism, a man whose roots are still in print, Edward Bliss, Jr.

THOUGHTS ON HIS DEATH
— DEC. 16, 2002

The grand old man of broadcast news, Ed Bliss, who died recently, was remembered fondly in eulogies by Bob Edwards, Jackie Judd, Deborah Potter, Walter Cronkite and others. I was one of the others, and as a tribute to Ed, I'm posting my eulogy here.

The eulogies were delivered at a memorial service December 12, 2002, in the chapel at American University, Washington, D.C.

Except for my own remarks, I don't have the texts of the eulogies. But audio clips will be posted at the web site of American University's School of Communication: http://www.soc.american.edu. That site links to a tribute to Ed on NPR by Bob Edwards. The site also provides background material about Ed and information about the service.

Here's what I said at the chapel:

My name is Mervin Block. I was a writer on the “CBS Evening News.” And Ed was my editor. He was a gentle soul, but one tough editor. I should say, one exacting editor. He was so painstaking. And sometimes I felt the pain.

In later years, he told me: Be hard on copy, not on people. We were friends through the years, and I saw that he lived by that motto: be hard on copy, not on people.

Oh, how I wish he were able to edit my copy today. But I have a hunch that he’s listening. Closely. I hope so.

On the “Evening News,” Ed used to read all the wire copy. And he saved almost every story that moved on the AP “A” and “B” wires, U-P-I and Reuters. He meticulously marked up all these stories and kept them in assorted piles on his desk. And when a later version of a story arrived, he dutifully replaced the earlier story. He also set aside copies of any reporters’ scripts.

After I handed Ed a script, he’d read it at least twice--then check it against the wire stories. And when he found a gap or a discrepancy, he’d ask politely, almost apologetically, “Is there any reason that you didn’t mention the scope of the project?”

Or he’d read a script and say to me, innocently—and Ed, I’m clearly identifying this as a paraphrase—Ed would say, “The A-P disagrees with Reuters. The A-P says five people were shot.” It wasn’t a question, but it called for a response. So even before Ed became an educator, I was getting an education.

Thinking about Ed and his legacy reminded me of one of England’s greatest architects, Sir Christopher Wren. He died in 1723. And he, too, was 90 years old. As you may recall, Sir Christopher designed a building at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg. And more than 50 London churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral. His epitaph there reads, “If you seek his monument, look around.”

Ed Bliss also left many monuments, walking monuments: journalists, teachers, friends. So if you seek Ed’s monuments, look around you.


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