Segments in this Video

Introduction: Voice of America (03:12)


The media has changed in recent decades because of cable news and the Internet. Lowell Thomas was as a transformative figure in journalism who reported on Lawrence of Arabia and the young Dalai Lama, among other stories.

Thomas' Early Years (04:09)

Thomas grew up in a Colorado gold rush town. He moved to Chicago to attend law school and work as a reporter. He spent time in Alaska and proposed to Frances Ryan by letter.

War Correspondent (02:43)

Thomas raised $50,000 to cover the Great War. Thomas moved to Europe with his new bride and photographer Harry Chase before traveling to the Middle East to cover fighting against the Ottoman Empire.

Embedded With Lawrence of Arabia (05:09)

Thomas met T.E. Lawrence while working in Jerusalem, and he documented their meetings in his journal. Lawrence had been working to gain support from Arab revolutionaries against the Ottoman Empire, and he convinced Thomas to travel with him.

Creating a Legend (09:29)

Thomas returned to the United States with footage he developed into multiple presentations. Lawrence was disappointed that promises to Arab allies were not kept. Thomas's show on the Arabian campaign was a smash hit in London, making Lawrence famous.

Well-Traveled but Broke (04:09)

Thomas took the story of Lawrence of Arabia around the world, but he spent more money than he made as he visited exotic countries. He and his wife had their only child and moved to Pawling, New York.

On the Air (05:53)

Thomas hired Prosper Buranelli to help him write. NBC fired the hard-drinking Floyd Gibbons from his radio newscast, and Thomas took over; he also reported for CBS, influencing generations of anchors that followed.

Rise of Broadcast News (05:51)

Radio newscasts soon rivaled newspapers, but networks had to develop their own news gathering resources after they were banned from poaching from newspapers and wire services. Lowell practiced a style of journalism that was objective; sponsors sometimes interfered.

Most Famous Broadcaster (04:53)

Americans needed a trusted source of news as the Great Depression plagued them at home and fascism advanced overseas. Thomas hosted newsreels for Fox Movietone. He considered himself to be an entertainer as well as a newsman.

Remote Broadcasts (05:56)

Thomas built a studio so he could broadcast from home, and he also broadcast from ski towns. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Babe Ruth, and other notables visited the family farm on Quaker Hill, which he tried to protect from commercial development.

Breaking Into Television (02:44)

NBC created a televised newscast that Thomas hosted in 1940, but he hated being tied down to the studio. He reported from Buchenwald and other notable locations toward the end of the war.

Out of Debt (04:16)

Thomas chased Gen. James Doolittle halfway around the world before covering the war in Asia. Business advisor Frank Smith helped Thomas sort out his finances, and the newsman become the largest stakeholder in Capital Cities.

Visiting Potala Palace (12:01)

Thomas and his son traveled to Lhasa, Tibet to meet the Dalai Lama. They rode ponies and hiked over the treacherous Himalayas, the only way to enter the country. Thomas was badly injured during the return journey.

Unbiased Approach (04:40)

Thomas rarely expressed opinions on the radio, and his non-partisan coverage influenced a generation of newsmen. In contrast, Edward R. Murrow spoke out against Sen. Joseph McCarthy during his 1950s communist witch hunts.

Early Adopter (07:45)

Thomas remained on the cutting edge of technology throughout his career, and he introduced many to Cinerama. His "High Adventure" TV series took viewers around the world. Anchorman Dan Rather and others discuss his legacy and the current state of news.

Credits: Voice of America (01:46)

Credits: Voice of America

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Voice of America: Lowell Thomas and the Rise of Broadcast News

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If you watch a news video today, listen to a newscast, or download a podcast, then you are benefiting from the work of Lowell Thomas. As Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, the Dalai Lama, and many others explain in this lively film about a dynamo of a man, Thomas pioneered what is now often celebrated or disparaged as “traditional journalism.” Beginning in 1930, Thomas hosted his first nightly national news programs for NBC and CBS, and he remained on the radio through 1976. He was also a great adventurer. Walter Cronkite concluded that Thomas had “crammed a couple of centuries worth of living into” his 89 years. Lowell returned from Arabia in 1919 with film of Lawrence of Arabia, a legend he also invented through a multi-media show he presented to millions. After riding a mule caravan up into forbidden Tibet in 1949, just before the Chinese invaded, Lowell returned with his leg broken in eight places but also with film of the young Dalai Lama. Today as truthful journalists are accused of "fake news," the life of Lowell Thomas reminds us why a free press is important to democracy and shared faith in factual reporting is a cornerstone of a civil society.

Length: 85 minutes

Item#: BVL196445

ISBN: 978-1-64867-444-0

Copyright date: ©2019

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