Richard C. Wald, a former president at NBC News and a senior vice president at ABC News who worked behind the scenes with Tom Brokaw, Jane Pauley, Ted Koppel and Roone Arledge, died May 13 after suffering a stroke earlier in the month. He was 92.
Wald was involved with the creation of “Nightline,” the signature ABC News late-night program that grew out of special coverage in 1979 on the taking of U.S. embassy staff in Tehran by Iranian militants. Wald gave the show, which devoted itself to a single topic each night under the aegis of Koppel and remains on the air at ABC in modernized form, its name, trying to create an analogue to the “morning line” at a race track. He also put Brokaw on NBC’s “Today,” and hired Pauley, while working to modernize the format of “NBC Nightly News.”
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His time in TV news, however, was preceded by a rich career in newspapers. He was the Sunday editor of the short-lived World Journal Tribune, after a merger of the Herald
Tribune, the World Telegram and the Journal American. After it ceased publication in 1977, Wald moved to television, first NBC and then ABC, in an era when television news was trying to match its print counterparts in prestige. Whenever he was asked why he had left newspapers, he replied, “I didn’t leave newspapers. Newspapers left me.”
The move to TV would prove prescient, and Wald saw where the format might go in the future. In March 1976, in an off-the-cuff speech at a convention of the National Association of
Broadcasters in Chicago, he predicted that TV news, then confined to half an hour a night, would become a 24-hour operation, and that it would be filled with talking heads and a proliferation of seeming experts. Wald also served as the model for the news division president played by actor William Holden in the 1976 satiric film “Network.” An account of screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky following Wald for two days is found in “Mad as Hell: The Making of ‘Network’ and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies,” by Dave Itzkoff. Koppel once identified Wald as the role model in a broadcast of the CBS News program “Sunday Morning.”
Richard Charles Wald was born March 19, 1930, in Manhattan, to Joseph S. Wald, who worked in the garment industry as a manager and factory owner, and Lily F. Wald. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School in 1948 and then Columbia College. At Columbia, he was on the editorial board of the Spectator, the student-run newspaper, with Max Frankel, who later became executive editor of the New York Times, and Lawrence Grossman, who was later president of PBS and then NBC News. Grossman, Frankel, Wald and Roone Arledge, who was later president of ABC News and ABC Sports, shared an off-campus apartment as Columbia undergraduates.
His start in journalism came as a stringer at Columbia for the Herald Tribune, where he broke the news that Dwight Eisenhower, former commander of the Allied armies in Europe, would become
the University’s president. He joined the Herald Tribune full time after a two-year fellowship at Clare College, Cambridge, and eventually became managing editor after a stint as a foreign
correspondent in London, Bonn and in Africa. He worked closely with leading lights of the “new journalism” movement then emerging, including Jimmy Breslin, Tom Wolfe and Gail Sheehy.
He joined NBC News in 1973, and then moved to ABC News in 1977.
After retiring from ABC, he became the first Fred W. Friendly Professor of Professional Practice in Media Society at Columbia, where for years he taught courses in national reporting and media ethics. He had received a B.A. from Columbia in 1952. As an alumnus, he was a long-time chairman of the board of directors of the Spectator and also served on the board of the Pulitzer Prize Awards, the DuPont Awards and the Peabody Awards. At the time of his death, Wald was a Professor Emeritus at Columbia, and a member of the Century Association.
Wald is survived by three children: Matthew L. Wald, of Friendship Heights, MD., an energy and communications consultant and former New York Times reporter; Elizabeth T. Wald, a former attorney with the EPA in Denver, Colorado; and Jonathan S. Wald, of New York City, a television news executive and former adjunct at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, teaching alongside his father for over a decade. He is also survived by seven grandchildren and one great-grandson. Edith Wald, his wife of 67 years, died in December 2021.
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