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Durable anchor fought TV fluff

Hal Fishman / 1931-2007

August 08, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Hal Fishman, the award-winning KTLA-TV Channel 5 news anchor who was a Los Angeles broadcasting fixture for nearly 50 years, died Tuesday, the station announced. He was 75.

Fishman died at 3 a.m. at his Brentwood home with his family at his side. He had been hospitalized with a serious infection after collapsing at his home Aug. 1, less than a week after being diagnosed with colon cancer. On Friday, the station announced that the disease had spread to his liver.

A broadcaster who began his television career in Los Angeles in 1960, Fishman had anchored his station's 10 p.m. newscast -- now called "KTLA Prime News" -- since 1975. He covered major news stories in Southern California, including the Watts riots, the assassination of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, the Sylmar and Northridge earthquakes and the Rodney G. King beating case.

A onetime assistant professor of political science, he also served as the newscast's managing editor and commentator.

Fishman anchored his last broadcast July 30.

"He's really the last of the old-fashioned broadcast journalists who cared about giving information to the public," Joe Saltzman, a journalism professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication, told The Times on Tuesday. "He had fought for years against the dumbing down of television news -- celebrity journalism and car chases and all the silliness -- and tried to maintain the criteria he believed in. He wanted to give people news that affected their lives, stories of substance. I don't think a Hal Fishman would be hired today in a local news market," Saltzman said.

Former longtime KTLA news director Jeff Wald called Fishman "the dean of Los Angeles television news."

"My joke about him was that he was a walking encyclopedia," Wald told The Times. "I've never met anybody who was as close to genius as the word can be. He had almost a photographic mind in that everything he had read -- and he was a voracious reader -- he remembered."

Fishman, Wald said some years ago, "knows the material better than what is written in his copy or what comes in on the wires. That's no slap to the writers, but he is so into his job, he can usually ad-lib better than what the writers can write for him."

Rich Goldner, interim KTLA news director, told The Times on Tuesday, "Hal was one of the last newsmen in this country who was extremely well-read and was so interested in informing the public about the truth."

His lengthy career as an anchor was a tribute to his believability and integrity, Goldner said.

Word of Fishman's death spurred an outpouring of remembrances from viewers on the website of KTLA, which like The Times is owned by Chicago-based Tribune Co. E-mail missives praised the veteran anchor for his "honesty," "sagacity" and "responsible journalism."

"Hal Fishman was one of the last serious newsmen," said a message submitted by John P. "Guys like him are irreplaceable."

"I loved Hal. I loved his voice, his delivery, and his general friendly attitude and manner," a message submitted by Kathy Stevens said. "His presence was just a comfort in some way, which I can't really explain."

By midafternoon Tuesday, viewers had posted more than 2,000 messages about Fishman.

The announcement and discussion of Fishman's passing filled more than 10 minutes on the "KTLA Morning Show" as the news team reminisced Tuesday about the veteran anchor.

Frank Buckley, who was filling in for regular anchor Carlos Amezcua, almost apologized to viewers as the discussion went on, finally saying that Fishman, as a dedicated journalist, would have wanted them to get to the news of the day.

The station's website posted a six-minute video tribute Tuesday morning to Fishman that detailed the anchor's rise from college professor to leading local news anchor. The tribute was accompanied by staff remembrances from Fishman's colleagues, including news reporter Stan Chambers, who joined KTLA in 1947, and former co-anchors Jann Carl and Lynette Romero.

Carl, who co-anchored the station's broadcast with Fishman for eight years, recalled his intense need to get the story right. "I never worked with a man so dedicated, so intelligent, so concerned with the accuracy of every single word we would utter," Carl said.

KTLA news officials aired a lengthy retrospective on Fishman's life and career during Tuesday night's 10 p.m. broadcast.

Fishman, who spent his entire 47-year news career at independent TV stations in Los Angeles, has often been referred to as one of the longest-running news anchors in the nation -- if not the longest-running.

At a gala celebrating KTLA's 60th anniversary at the Autry National Center on July 31, Fishman was honored for his years in television news and presented with a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records proclaiming his durability in anchoring television news without interruption from June 20, 1960, until the present.

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