For decades, TV stations grudgingly followed FCC regulations about offering editorial opinions. They were delivered at midnight by male general managers, uncomfortably discussing obscure subjects.
When President Reagan deregulated the industry, stations happily junked their editorials.
Cablevision is one of the few networks in the country that’s kept the tradition alive — in its own way. For the past 13 years, its editorials were delivered by a very attractive woman. Hired for that specific role, she spoke intelligently and strongly on a broad array of important topics.
Earlier this month, Dianne Wildman Burns retired. In a television landscape filled with celebrity gossip, shouting political pundits and “reality” garbage, she will be sorely missed.
Dianne is a true pro. After grad school in UCLA and a stint in the Peace Corps, she landed a job in radio. KNBC-TV liked her news-writing style — and with 19 men and no women on staff, they were desperate to avoid a license challenge. They hired her quickly.
Dianne served as an NBC News correspondent in the US and London. She married writer/TV commentator Eric Burns, had 2 children, and worked in the Clinton White House press office.
After the Burnses moved to Westport, she joined Cablevision. Every Wednesday and Friday, she delivered editorials.
She covered every topic. Transportation, Long Island Sound, veterans, the homeless, the economy, crime, good news — you name it, Dianne did it.
Though she commented often on government bureaucracies and decisions, she did not swing blindly. “People work very hard in government, and they don’t get credit for it,” she says. “It’s easy to criticize one headline, but they labor every day. It’s a slog. They’re very devoted.”
Dianne adds, “I tried not to just zing. I looked for ways to improve policy. It’s not just about one snarky comment.”
Her favorite subjects are “anything with kids, and anything about Bridgeport.” Youngsters are our future; as for the city, it’s “so complex,” she says. “And I’m fascinated with its evolution from an industrial city to what it is today.”
She calls her job “wonderful,” because the focus was intensely local. People — politicians, local citizens, folks she knows and complete strangers — reacted to nearly everything she said.
The most vociferous feedback came when she talked about highway tolls. “The piece was just about thinking about them,” she laughs. “But a whole lot of people told me how misinformed I was.”
Unlike a general reporter, she had time to talk with them. And many took time to thank her for her editorials.
She wrote and delivered about 1,500, since 1998. She came up with ideas, framed them — and made sure there were visuals and graphics to accompany them. “Writing to pictures” was one of the hardest parts of her job.
Oh, yeah: Each editorial had to clock in between 95 and 100 seconds in length.
In her final piece earlier this month, Dianne said she’d been blessed with a great career.
Now she’s on to her next adventure.
“I’ve been a journalist all my life,” Dianne notes. “I’ve loved doing this. But journalists are by definition observers. I might want to participate now a bit more — do something beyond just watching.”
And, she says, “I’d love to do it outside — away from a desk!”
(Click here for Dianne’s “goodbye” editorial — and an archive of others.)