We note today with sadness the passing this week of a member of our Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame, Lloyd Dobyns, at the age of 85.
Dobyns became a familiar face on television's network news in the 1970s and 1980s as an NBC reporter and anchor, covering stories around the world and creating innovative television news magazine shows such as "Weekend" and "Overnight" in the days long before the 24-hour cable news networks. Dobyns was best-known for hosting news magazine shows that took an in-depth look at the stories of the day. Stories that might get 90 seconds of coverage on the nightly news shows might receive ten minutes of in-depth reporting on a Dobyns-anchored news show.
In 1975, he was awarded the prestigious George Foster Peabody medal for his work on the show "Weekend." The Peabody award committee said, "Felicity of style and polished journalistic professionalism are the distinctive wellsprings at the source of 'Weekend', produced and written for NBC by Reuven Frank and Lloyd Dobyns. A once-a-month magazine of television, inquiring into the off-trail, 'Weekend' is hereby honored not only for its content, but also as an instructive example of how the language can be employed with grace and precision."
In 1977, he was honored by Fork Union Military Academy and inducted into the Distinguished Alumni Hall of Fame.
"Lloyd was a man ahead of his time,” said Richard C. Wald, former president of NBC News, now Fred Friendly Professor of Professional Practice in Media and Society at Columbia University. “He had what is now called edge. In service to that style he brought experience, intelligence and a subversive humor that made anything he did identifiably Dobyns."
Lloyd Dobyns was born in Newport News, Virginia, and attended Fork Union Military Academy, graduating in the Class of 1953. He served in the US Army for two years before attending Washington & Lee University to study journalism. He began his news career at WDBJ in Roanoke, Virginia, and continued moving up the markets and ranks of broadcast journalism. He worked at WAVY in the Tidewater, Virginia, area, rising to news director, before moving to New York to work as managing editor of WNYW. He next worked for the network news at NBC from 1969 until his retirement in 1986.
The show "Weekend" was created by Executive Producer Reuven Franks, who was a two-time president of NBC News. When asked by reporters to describe Dobyns, the new show's host, Franks replied, "Well, he writes like David Brinkley and looks like Charles Bronson."
The show was smart and well-written, as well as being groundbreaking in its format and its quirky, irreverent style, starting with its opening theme music which was the guitar intro to "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones, and ending with Dobyns' trademark catchphrase, "And so it goes..." (most likely taken from Kurt Vonnegut's 1972 novel Slaughterhouse-Five in another sign of Dobyns' literate style).
Linda Ellerbee joined the show as co-host in late 1978. The pair were reunited to host the late night news show "NBC News Overnight" that premiered on July 5, 1982 in a time slot following "The David Letterman Show" on NBC. This show earned a Silver Baton award from the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, which described the show as "possibly the best-written and most intelligent television news anywhere.''
Dobyns brought the skills of a outstanding writer, as noted by both the Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards committees, as well as a droll, dry humor to his presentation of the news. His style was on full display in his appearances with David Letterman in the early 1980s, as seen in these video clips:
In 1980, Dobyns was the host of a widely-viewed and important documentary on American productivity titled "If Japan Can, Why Can't We?" that had a major impact on US corporations. The documentary compared the corporate productivity boom then occurring in Japan to the falling rates of productivity in US corporations. The documentary introduced Dr. Edward Demings to the American market as an expert on corporate productivity and helped usher in the Total Quality Managment movement in American business.
Following his retirement from NBC, Dobyns co-authored two books on quality management.
Dobyns then turned to teaching and held the Ayers Chair in the communications department at Jacksonville State University in Alabama until returning to his native Virginia in 2004.
“I learned a lot about journalism and how to deliver it by watching Lloyd—here was an old-school journalist inventing a new school of journalism every night on NBC," said Brian Williams, a chief anchor at MSNBC. "Lloyd was wry without being snarky, he was smart but never pedantic, he was dry by design...but never boring. He firmly believed: he was a delivery system. The news was the star of the broadcast."
During his career in journalism Dobyns was honored with 28 national awards including the George Foster Peabody medal, the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton, a Humanitas prize, and two Christopher Awards. He was granted an honorary doctorate of humane letters by the University of North Carolina in 1992. In 2003, he was inducted into the Virginia Communications Hall of Fame.
Lloyd Dobyns' obituary has been published by the Lea Funeral Home in Raleigh, North Carolina.