We worked with Ralph Penza in the Eighties at WNBC-TV's News 4 New York. He was a great reporter and anchorman, and a very-down-to-Earth good guy.
We never knew he'd gotten his start in the business in the heart of tabloid, as a copy boy for Walter Winchell.
Ralph died yesterday at 74. He got a nice New York Times obituary.
The Times says "Mr. Penza, a senior correspondent for WNBC-TV, was best known for his aggressive reporting style and investigative news series, which often carried provocative titles like 'Killer Fish' and 'Dangerous Doctors.' He was also known for his signature 'walking stand-ups,' in which the camera would follow him as he moved around a scene instead of standing still in one spot..."
What Ralph Penza was really known for was his authoritative reporting and knowledge of local, national and world events-- a network-level correspondent who plied his trade in local news. He was a heavyweight who, as satellite technology expanded the range of local news operations, took on the big national and international stories (as the Times notes)--traveling and reporting from places around the world-- and made the nightly network news nabobs a little less important.
Which brings us back to New York Times obituaries. Ralph got his. And he deserves one, being such an important part of the fabric of New York City news media and popular culture. So why didn't Harry Ryttenberg and Mark Monsky get obits in the New York Times? This week alone, the Times gave nice fat obits to the founder of the Arctic Chamber Orchestra and a slippers inventor. That Ryttenberg & Monsky-- Ralph's colleagues at News 4 (Harry, founder of the Broadcast News Service, was the assignment editor and Monsky was news director for a time-- see Tabloid Baby)-- and giants in the history of New York City local news, as was Ralph -- were ignored in death-- is a bit of an oversight and a disgrace, wouldn't you say?