Peter Jennings, 1938-2005

peter jennings/abcnews.com

I knew — but didn’t want to know — this was coming: Peter Jennings, anchor and senior editor of ABC’s "World News Tonight" since 1983, died today just four months after the April 5 announcement that he had lung cancer. His accomplishments were manifold, his presence assured, his news judgment rock solid.

One aspect that may not get a lot of attention — the role Jennings played in helping ABC News adapt to the digital age. I don’t know if he was the first, but he certainly was among the earliest network stars to write a regular email newsletter. His "Jennings Journal" set a tone for breaking through the barriers between news operations and viewers. When he wrote, "as always, we welcome your thoughts on the news, the broadcast, and this newsletter," it was genuine; he answered many emails personally and constantly addressed concerns.  His senior producer Tom Nagorski sent out the 9/11 edition, noting that "normally Peter Jennings writes it" but he was at the anchor desk.

In his dispatch about the death of mentor Roone Arledge, also of cancer, Jennings called it "the saddest news of the day for many of us in this news division … he fought so hard for so long." Words that echo now.

Coda: We heard the news during a national cut-in on NBC affiliate KSDK’s late-night sports show. When we switched to ABC affiliate KDNL, owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, an installment of "Extra" was on the air. Maybe we missed the announcement there.

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