By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
At its core, television news is not a complicated business. It is about bringing the events of the world into people's homes (or these days, wherever they happen to be), and doing it with intelligence, speed and accuracy -- and maybe a little style. But doing it well can be extraordinarily difficult. Those who are best at it make it look easy, and no one was better at it than Jim Cummins, who died this past weekend. Jim was a correspondent for NBC News -- a field reporter -- for some thirty years, based out of Chicago, then Dallas. For many of those years he was also our Southwest bureau chief.
Field reporting is at the heart of what we do every day, and Jim simply excelled at it, year in and year out. He covered all kinds of stories, bringing to them clarity, immediacy, and a human touch. That he did this so well for so long is remarkable. That he did it so dependably and selflessly, and was such a pleasure to work with -- well, that was a gift.
It's fitting that we remember Jim today, because this is an important date in the history of NBC News, and of this broadcast. On October 29, 1956 -- 51 years ago today -- the modern era of network evening news began, with the debut of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, co-anchoring what would become known as the Huntley-Brinkley Report. As we've said before, Chet and David, and their legendary producer Reuven Frank, created the template that has shaped so much of television news ever since. They were pioneers in what was then a young business, still being invented.
Television news itself has been around for close to 60 years, and it's worth pointing out that for more than half of that history, Jim Cummins was a part of it. We're proud that he was our colleague, and grateful that he was our friend.
Here is the statement about Jim that was released this weekend by NBC News President Steve Capus:
The NBC News family has lost a gentle giant of a man. Veteran NBC correspondent and bureau chief, Jim Cummins died this evening. His beloved wife Connie and their six children were with him as he passed away at the all-too-young age of 62.
It is fitting that Jim had a big family. After all, he spent decades making Americans feel right at home, with his down to earth, warm reporting style, delivery and presence. During a distinguished career with NBC News, Jim covered all kinds of breaking news assignments and memorable features. As Brian Williams recently put it, Jim was the definition of a field correspondent who seemingly covered every story more than once.
Jim was a child of Midwest America, with roots that stretched back to his birthplace in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He loved sports, and made a name for himself on the basketball court at Northwestern University. He earned his B.A. and master's degrees at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.
Jim began his broadcast career in 1969 at KGLO-TV in Mason City, Iowa. He moved to WOTV in Grand Rapids, Michigan as an anchor and reporter in 1970. Three years later, he joined the NBC station in Milwaukee, WTMJ. Jim's next leap was to WMAQ-TV in Chicago. That move lead to Jim's hiring in 1978 as a Chicago-based correspondent for NBC News. In 1989, Jim became our Southwest bureau chief and correspondent, based in Dallas.
What a run Jim had with NBC News. From U.S. political coverage, to plane crashes; from the civil war in El Salvador to countless hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. His reporting led our broadcasts day after day from places like Waco; Killeen; Oklahoma City and Galveston. He earned an Emmy in 1993 for his reporting on the Midwest floods.
I thought of Jim often this week, as so many of our people showcased their brilliant talents covering the California wildfires. This was the kind of coverage that Jim poured himself into for decades.
Jim and Connie had a vision for life after NBC. A damnable cancer diagnosis came a short time after he left the job, and those plans took a backseat to a courageous battle. Tonight, he's at peace. Jim Cummins was a good man.
Amen to that. We hope you can join us for tonight's broadcast.