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Rooney extols virtues of television news

Emily Rooney of "Greater Boston."
Emily Rooney of "Greater Boston."
Photo / Laura Wulf

Emily Rooney, host and executive editor of " Greater Boston ," the nightly current-affairs program on WGBH-TV, told an MIT communications audience that they're "out of the loop" if they're not watching plenty of TV news.

Rooney has spent most of her professional life in television news, and she remains a believer in the medium. "The newspapers are yesterday's news. Not watching TV is no longer a bragging point. TV, particularly network TV news, does what nothing else can do," Rooney said in a Jan. 16 talk to MIT's Information Group, whose members focus on communications with constituencies internal and external to MIT.

Before joining "Greater Boston" in 1997, Rooney worked at the Fox Network in New York, where she most recently oversaw national political coverage. Prior to that, she was executive producer of "ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings." Ms. Rooney also worked at WCVB-TV in Boston for 15 years. During her tenure there, the station's news department was honored with several major broadcasting awards.

Her enthusiasm for the medium has grown right alongside its technological advances, she said.

"Technology has changed markedly. We saw a war in Afghanistan, a country without toilets, thanks to the networks bringing in billions of dollars' worth of equipment. One reporter can carry about $4 million of that on his back. That's a long way from the day when you had to dial a satellite to use a cell phone. Yet these changes have not changed the basic ethics we practice," she said with telegenic force.

In response to questions from Information Group members about how MIT could work effectively with the broadcast media, Rooney was candid about the difficulties, though also encouraging.

"MIT and other institutions have had a distrust of TV. But we're open and receptive to your suggestions. We want to cultivate people who can go on the air and be calm, knowledgeable and specific in discussing the news," she said. Rooney noted that guests on "Greater Boston" are pre-interviewed at length before going on the air.

She also noted that, while public-relations people in universities "need to understand that a great program at your school is not a news story," "Greater Boston" staffers do read all incoming mail and faxes.

"No one on our staff is above clearing the fax machine or picking up the phone if it looks like a good lead," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 30, 2002.

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