Ear­lier this month, leg­endary jour­nalist and “60 Min­utes” com­men­tator Andy Rooney passed away at the age of 92, just weeks after announcing he would retire from making weekly appear­ances on the pro­gram. Viewers across the country will miss Rooney’s witty rap­port and unique reporting style. We asked Dan Kennedy, asso­ciate pro­fessor of jour­nalism in the Col­lege of Arts, Media and Design, to com­ment on Andy Rooney’s legacy and his impact on tele­vi­sion journalism. 

What per­sonal attrib­utes made Andy Rooney so suc­cessful in his jour­nalism career?

Andy Rooney was very much a part of the golden era at CBS News. The suc­cess he enjoyed late in his career was rooted in his back­ground in reporting rather than in the busi­ness of tele­vi­sion, as was also the case with peers such as Walter Cronkite, a friend of Rooney’s, and Harry Rea­soner, with whom Rooney enjoyed a close working relationship.

In reading the obit­u­aries and trib­utes to Rooney, I was par­tic­u­larly struck by his expe­ri­ence working as a reporter for Stars and Stripes during World War II, where, among other things, he flew on some incred­ibly dan­gerous bombing mis­sions so he could bring back the story. His later com­men­taries for “60 Min­utes” may have seemed like harm­less enter­tain­ment, but there was a real edge to them, and he was absolutely fear­less about giving offense. I have to believe his wartime expe­ri­ences helped him learn how to offend adver­tisers, viewers and his bosses without losing any sleep over it.

Rooney is cred­ited with cre­ating a new genre of “con­tentious tele­vi­sion essays.” What influ­ence has his approach had on jour­nalism today?

Rooney’s work on “60 Min­utes” was in a class by itself and that’s a shame. Yes, he was con­tentious, but his pieces were also funny, well researched and infor­ma­tive, and he deliv­ered them calmly, but with a performer’s flair. I see very little of those qual­i­ties in tele­vi­sion jour­nalism today, and espe­cially in the talk-​​show world of cable news. Shouting, over-​​the-​​top opinion mon­gering is the antithesis of Rooney’s approach, which was to iden­tify small but annoying aspects of life that we might never have thought about, had he not called them to our atten­tion. We were enter­tained, but we also learned some­thing — a rare com­bi­na­tion that has become more rare over time.

What’s your most dis­tinc­tive memory of Andy Rooney’s career? What would you con­sider to be his most mem­o­rable con­tri­bu­tions to the field of jour­nalism?

I have one very dis­tinc­tive memory of Rooney, and it has nothing to do with his career. About eight or 10 years ago, when I was working at the Boston Phoenix, my phone rang. “This is Andy Rooney,” the caller said in what seemed like an exag­ger­ated attempt at imi­tating him. “Yeah, right,” I responded, won­dering who was really on the other end of the line. It was Rooney. While we were taping “Beat the Press” one Friday after­noon, his daughter Emily, the host, men­tioned the name of someone who had been bug­ging her father over some per­ceived offense. It turned out that I had heard from the same person a few times as well. She told her father, and he decided to give me a call. I can’t remember what I told him — it was all I could do to recover from my inaus­pi­cious opening. Now that Rooney has died, I wish I could recall exactly what he said that day.

Rooney rev­o­lu­tion­ized nei­ther jour­nalism nor tele­vi­sion. His legacy is that he was con­sis­tently excel­lent. He con­sid­ered him­self a writer first, yet he would not have suc­ceeded on “60 Min­utes” if he hadn’t turned out to be so good in front of the camera. He was in his late 50s before he became a TV star, and he remained in that role into his 90s. So per­haps another legacy of his was to pro­vide hope and inspi­ra­tion to all of us who aspire to keep growing and to be pro­duc­tive in our later years.