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tv   The Future of News  PBS  November 9, 2011 10:30pm-11:00pm PST

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>> this program is brought to you by a grant from the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide. >> journalism, the fourth estate--working for the public good and keeping your government honest. a recent state of the first amendment survey shows 71% of americans see a free press as a necessary watchdog on government. in the future, will journalists be able to live up to the public's expectations? are the economics of news threatening journalists' traditional role? >> i think that people who watch cable news now increasingly are very frustrated by the fact that most of it is conversation and talk, and it's very unclear where the facts are. i think increasingly in our very complicated world, facts are in shorter and shorter supply. >> who can you trust to deliver
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the facts you need? safeguarding the public trust in a new media world--that's our topic today on "the future of news." >> a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the united states of america. >> the journalist's role is to get to the truth, and the best way to get to the truth is to accumulate facts. >> many people sort of assume that if they get crossposted on gawker, they have a journalism career. >> from the newseum in washington d.c., this is "the future of news." welcome to the knight studio and our conversation about media and news in the digital age. i'm frank sesno. our guests today both bring a deep understanding of the importance of news as a public good in this country. farai chideya is an award-winning journalist and author. she's hosted npr's "news and notes" program and is the driving force behind the web blog pop and politics. dan
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rather has spent his life in news and is a highly acclaimed reporter and news anchor. he's covered major stories of our time for cbs news and now anchors "dan rather reports" on hdnet. welcome to you both. >> thank you, frank. >> glad to have you here. very different career arcs, perspectives. let me start by asking you the big question: are the media today serving the public interest? dan, what do you think? >> overall in the main, i think yes--less so than has been the case in some of our history, particularly in the period beginning just before world war ii and continuing into the mid nineties, but overall in the main, yes. journalism, particularly journalism at its best in the best traditions of the american press, serving the public good. >> farai? >> i think it depends on who you are. the biggest divide i see in who gets served with what news is actually a class divide. i feel like if you are middle or upper middle class
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wealthy, the way that news, particularly--take something like economic news that we all care about--is tailored and targeted for you, depending on demographic. >> mm-hmm. >> if you don't have a certain income level, you might as well be invisible, and that's the biggest divide i see. so there's not a lot of news in the public interest that's really from a more grass-roots perspective. >> dan, you've been very critical in the past of some aspects of the news, to include your alma mater, cbs news, where there have been a lot of job cuts, where a lot of the correspondents who used to work overseas, report for your broadcast, no longer exist. is cbs or these other organizations that have cut all these jobs really still capable of serving the public interest? >> they are capable of doing so, and you've touched on what i think is the important point not just for journalists, but for the public at large. part of what's wrong with american journalism, and i do not exempt myself from this criticism, is the corporatization, politicalization, and trivialization of the news. and
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in an era where, by my account, no more than 4, some say no more than 6, very large corporations control 80% or more of the truly mass distribution of news in the country, when i say "corporatization," that's what i'm talking about. politicalization, what i'm talking about is that increasingly, various places on the media landscape--everything from cable television and through the internet--cater to people from one partisan political point of view--either left, right, democrat, or republican. we've had this factionalization, which i don't think serves the country well. >> you have not worked for a large corporation news entity. you have your blog, you have your books, you have the media that you're on television and radio... >> i do think i've worked for all of them. i'm just not working for any of them right now. >> well, maybe that's good, or maybe that's bad, but what i was gonna get at is, in these new media expressions, is there somehow going to be less pressure for profit, more ability to report?
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>> you know, i'm now at this place where i'm developing new public media programming, so i'm having to look at the financial side of media as well as the ethics and the skill of it, and it's a very new role for me to view myself as someone who can be an entrepreneur within the media landscape. i believe that that is--that whole trend of journalist as entrepreneur either in public or commercial media can be problematic because it takes away sometimes from the other things that you have to do. however, i do believe when you look at propublica, you look at a bunch of the different, you know, public interest public media groups that have sprung up over the last 5 years; you look at the new partnership between u.c.-berkeley, kqed, and one of the major foundations out in the bay area; you're seeing this groundswell of new public media. >> well, you're seeing an attempt. i don't know if it's a groundswell yet. >> it's a groundswell. whether
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or not it'll last is-- >> but here's the question. i mean, here's the issue, one interesting issue. rick edmonds of poynters made a calculation, roughly speaking, that if you were to quantify all the cuts that we've heard about and read about in all of these newsrooms, it could add up to something like $1.6 billion taken out. now, you talk about new ways of funding, new types of businesses, new places. sonya gavankar is here, and she's going to take a look at this endowment model of foundation funding, maybe part of the future of news. sonya? >> farai mentioned propublica, and we wanted to show you propublica's web site. it's an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. with a multi-year commitment from the sandler foundation, propublica tackles the big stories, including the detention dilemmas in guantanamo, the stimulus, and the bailout. they've been tracking who gets the money, and you can track it through institution as well as state. coming in at number one, the state of new york, thanks to aig. i enjoy their reporting blog reporting network, where i
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can follow what stories they're covering and see how i can help their collaborative reporting projects. in fact, propublica encourages other sites to steal their stories. they say, "go ahead and take any of our stories. just give us credit, and don't edit it." they also partner with other news organizations, like "60 minutes" and "the new york times." propublica, a new model for the future of news, frank. >> ok, guys. steal this story? maybe we're on to something here. but, dan, it's an interesting question. you have covered, and in your lifetime and in your role as a major news presence, vietnam, watergate--big, big stories. can hdnet possibly have that impact now? can farai and propublica and other web sites capture those gigantic stories and stay with them the way... >> no, they can't have the impact that coverage, say, of watergate, which was a widespread criminal conspiracy run out of the white house, including the president himself,
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exclamation point--no, it can't have that kind of impact because the competitive arena has become much larger and much fiercer. but what's needed here, frank, and you've touched on this a couple of times, and i hope we can come back to it, is most of us who are in journalism today were drawn to it by a lot of things, but not least of which the belief that a public journal is a public trust. that includes electronic journalism. this is a public trust. >> a public trust. >> a public trust, i would say a sacred public trust, but a public trust, to be operated at least in part in the public interest. the difference between today and yesterday, with the largest corporations that control most of the major news distribution in this country, is that not so long ago, it was the compact with the audience was, "yes, we're in it to make money, and we want to make money, but we understand it's a public trust to be
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operated in the public interest, not just in the interest of making money," and that's been drained almost entirely out of what one called mainstream media. >> farai? >> i think that are a couple of different issues on the table. one is that i agree with what you're saying, and yet at the same time, i would throw into that that the news has not always reflected the entire public. and when i see hand-wringing, and i'm not talking about you, but i'm talking-- >> oh, go ahead. >> i'm talking about pretty much every journalist i know is understandably hand-wringing about the state of journalism. but i don't want to see journalism rebuilt the way it was because it did not always do well by black people, women, immigrants, et cetera. >> you don't think there's any danger that it's gonna go back to that, do you? is there any possibility that it could revert to that? >> nothing ever goes back. everything goes forward. but when you look at profit models in the construction of news, you see a lot of--what i see in particular is purely sort of pseudo-service journalism about
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some new drug that comes out rather than looking at--you know, right now, health care is in the news, so this may not be the best example, but rather than looking at big systemic issues that take place over long periods of time and require investigative funds and require objectivity, it's like, "oh, well, someone has a new heartburn drug, and we're gonna spend 3 minutes on it. by the way, let's go to a commercial." bing! you know, and you see that drug. and that stuff drives me nuts. >> what about our journalists of tomorrow and our journalists of the future? are they, are we thinking enough about the public trust? >> i think it depends on what you mean by journalists of the future because there are-- >> somebody's got to do this job. >> well, what i mean by that is, you know, you obviously are helping to create journalists of the future, taking a role in how people learn in a structured setting, academic setting, about journalism. i feel like j-schools and journalism programs and
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journalism-affiliated programs have moved in a very strong direction of trying to teach the ethics of traditional journalism with some of the new technologies. however, there's a whole school of rough-and-ready quasi-journalism. and i'm all for the internet, don't get me wrong, but i think that there-- >> i mean, you've lived there. >> yes, i've lived on the internet, but i think that many people sort of assume that if they get crossposted on gawker, they have a journalism career. and then they will never--they won't either make money, nor will they truly be a journalist, and so-- >> or will they think about the public trust? >> right, and so i think that there's--i think people are putting a lot of things into a blender. can you be snarky? can you do investigative reporting? can you serve a community? those are all very different things that are all getting tossed in this big salad bowl right now, and we need to at least know what we're putting together and know what skills go with what aspects. >> so let me bring in another voice, a very prominent voice. alex jones is a longtime newsman and author. he's been highly critical of the
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direction the news business has taken, and he poses this question for our guests. >> the news business, especially newspapers, have had a commitment to the public to work, in part, at least, in the public good. in this environment, with this very vital kind of news in play, and all of the journalistic values that go along with it, how are you going to sustain that in an environment that values speed over accuracy, edge over fairness, and entertainment above everything else? >> dan rather, speed over accuracy, edge over fairness, and entertainment above everything else. >> pretty much sums it up, and i want to add my voice to recommend alex jones' book, which is excellent, partly because it not only lays out the problem with american journalism, but it suggests some possible solutions. perhaps the most important thing alex jones says in his book is we need to think how we preserve the iron core, the iron core, of real
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journalism--that is, not just putting 5 people in a room and shouting at one another, not just talking about the latest episode of britney spears or something, but the iron core. and the iron core is centered in newspapers. he's right about that. in every television newsroom, every radio newsroom, whatever's on the front page of the paper, particularly the large papers like "the new york times" and "the washington post," they use that as a springboard. so the iron core is what we're talking about preserving. who's gonna report about the plight of the homeless? who's gonna report about the plight of the working poor? who is going to report on the corruption in high and low places in government? this takes money. how to finance this kind of reporting, the iron core of reporting, is the question in front of the house. >> i have a suggestion, and this is something i'm actually working on right now, and i'm not the only one, which is that we have to look at what's called "citizen journalism," which is people who are not trained journalists doing reporting. but i think there can be a way that people
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who are developing new media can say, "can we train a cadre of editors who work with citizen journalists and who get them to vet their material, make sure that it's journalistically sound, but also encourage their practices so that they can produce more material?" >> i'm not one of those who says citizen journalists, no. citizen journalists, yes, but you need a new iron core, if you will, of trained professional journalists who perform, if you will, the surgeon part of this journalistic operation while the citizen journalists perform the emergency care first responders. >> and also, bubble up ideas because i think what you see now is the ability to use any number of computer programs to aggregate content, and if you create a good citizen journalist network and--say that there are reports of tainted lettuce and they pop up all over the map. then it is up to a trained professional to evaluate those claims as to whether or not they're true or false, which is
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what journalists do. but i think that putting information out there--no one can stop people from putting information out there. the problem is that we don't have enough of a filter to decide what information is useful and what is not useful, and that to me is where things are really falling down. >> how information is useful and what information is valid in cutting through all that is really the challenge of the future, as is a lot of this discussion about bias in media, trust in media. accusations of press bias have led to an explosion in media watchdog groups. they used to mostly have the power of the pen if they existed at all, but the internet has made monitoring, fact-checking, video compilation easier than ever. the groups are on both sides of the partisan divide. ask dan rather about that. can it keep the press corps on its toes? sonya has a few sites to show us on this. sonya? >> frank, a couple of sites that are on the left and the right that are critics of the media. first up, fairness and accuracy in reporting, or fair--it's a liberal media watchdog organization that offers documented criticisms of what they see as conservative
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media bias. you can access their works on a variety of different media platforms. the website e-mails a newsletter, and fair publishes a print edition of their magazine "extra," but you can use their online resources to read some of the articles going as far back as 1987. you can also use their web site to find out where their radio program "counterspin" is playing or listen to a podcast. fair is using the power of technology to bring you their message on a variety of platforms. next up, the conservative media research center, or mrc. their news analysis division has many resources as well. their "notable quotables" section compiles direct quotes from media types that mrc feels demonstrates liberal bias. for a lighter take on media bias, go to their "newsbuster" section, where you can view their videos that they call "news busted." it's video satire in the style of a newscast. fair and mrc are just two sites that monitor the media and are guaranteed to
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irritate at least half of the country. frank. >> guaranteed to irritate. dan rather, i have to ask you about this because this is a question of both accountability, but some feel it goes too far. you were a target. you were a lightning rod in your days at cbs. there was a web site--maybe there still is--called "" and bloggers descended upon you after the famous "60 minutes" story. you've said you got to have a thick skin for this, this isn't a popularity contest, but is this the kind of scrutiny that you believe in your heart of heart helps or hinders journalism? >> well, i think overall in the main, it helps. >> did you feel that way when it was being directed at you? >> i d, actually. it's another subject for another day, but i did feel that, and i do feel that because, look, it's a free country. you can say what you want to say. the difficulty with these sites--having said that, the difficulty, and she just pointed it out, they come
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from a point of view. and frequently the word "bias"--there is a place for it, and there is bias in news, and i don't know of any journalist who at some time in some way couldn't be pinpointed as having engaged in bias, but freq is through the prism of the prejudices of the person who's making the judgment, which is if you consider yourself to the right, that you're going to see things as biased that somebody on the left would not see. so it is through the prism of the person who's writing these things, particularly partisan political and/or ideological point of view. but having said where i think--they bring great things into the discussion that should be discussed. this is where there needs to be investigative reporting, that, ok, this person charges bias, that no person is perfect. nobody can be completely, totally unbiased every second every day, but the test for a working journalist is how often
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and how hard does he or she try and how often does it succeed over the balance of a whole career or a whole story, not one particular quote maybe taken out of context. one other point, then i'll leave it be: we've talked a lot about facts, and facts are important. but you can know all the facts and still not know the truth unless you connect the dots of the facts to get to the truth. what is the journalist's role? the journalist's role is to get to the truth, and the best way to get to the truth is to accumulate facts. i think a lot of people don't quite understand that or choose not to understand it when they start throwing around the word "bias." >> farai, dan, let's bring in the audience voice here. we have some questions from the floor. hi. tell us who you are and what your question is. >> i'm eugenia finizio. i'm from pittsburgh, pennsylvania, and i'm a student at g.w. school of media and public affairs, and as a journalism major learning about journalism in my freshman classes, i've learned a lot about reporter and source relationships, and i was wondering how you as journalists look at sources and decide
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which ones to trust and which ones to go back to again and again. >> i am a big fan of cultivating your sources over time and not just calling people out of the blue. the biggest advice i give is talk to people before you need them. that way, they know--you know, you know them and you know if they're trying to hustle you. >> dan? >> well, it is who do you trust? and trust is built usually over time with sources. but sometimes, to be perfectly candid, it's a spot decision. you haven't known this person for long, you may not see them again. but there's no substitute for knowing your sources. and in the same way that you need to trust your source, the source needs to trust you. >> sir. >> hi. my name is pat curran. my question is will the internet ultimately be the scourge or the savior of journalism? >> it's been the scourge. it will be the savior. i think we're kind of hitting that point where there--it's always been
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both, but i think that finally, people are doing a meaningful examination of what it takes to combine actual hard-nosed reporting with internet distribution and also to find ways to loop people in who are in dispersed communities. what we call "the internet" can do all of those. it can find people in terrestrial locations, real communities. it can aggregate information. it can find--you know, you can find tools for doing investigative reporting. right now, it's all about putting all those tools together. we have all the tools. we just haven't put them together, and that's what we're doing right now. >> i'm an optimist by both experience and by nature, and i think in the future it will be both savior and scourge, but increasingly, it will be savior. scourge will be on the decline, the savior part will be on the upcline. that's my hope and also my belief. >> and i get to ask the last question. dan rather... >> stand by.
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>> dan rather, you were known and are known for your clever expressions. i don't know. "faster than a...strawberry in a blender on a hot august day." >> [laughter] >> were those all spontaneous, or did you work those out ahead of time? >> well, both. i grew up with people who talked that way. >> that must have been a great dinner that you had. >> i'm a texan by birth and by choice, and i grew up in the oil fields, and these were people who worked with their backs and hands and did hard work. they were always looking for new ways to say things, and a lot of those things are embedded in my mind and have been since youth. >> what's your favorite dan rather... >> oh, man, i couldn't pick a favorite. maybe among them are "hotter than a times square rolex." >> [laughter] >> i want to throw some words out here, and i want to take a look at something. public trust. watchdog role. accountability journalism. giving voice to the voiceless. you know, these are not idle terms. it's what journalism is supposed
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to be all about. i want to take you now, courtesy of the newseum archives, to a landmark television event when the power of this new medium and the reputation of a famed newsman weighed in on behalf of the public interest. it was the anti-communi campaign of senator joseph r. mccarthy. >> good evening. tonight's "see it now" devotes its entire half-hour to a report on senator joseph r. mccarthy told mainly in his own words and pictures. on one thing, the senator has been consistent. often operating as a one-man committee, he has traveled far, interviewed many, terrorized some. >> one of those documents that was never supposed to have seen the light of day... >> one month later, murrow and cbs gave mccarthy airtime to rebut the original "see it now" program. >> ordinarily, i would not take time out from the important work at hand to answer murrow. however, in this case, i feel justified in doing so because murrow is a symbol, the leader, and the cleverest of the jackal
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pack which is always found at the throat of anyone who dares to expose individual communists and traitors. >> before "see it now" exposed the tactics of senator mccarthy, the press had been largely compliant and even inadequate. oh, there was plenty of reporting that he had made his charges, but very little work done to check whether those charges were valid. by the end of the year, mccarthy would be censured by the senate, effectively ending his time as a political force. to you both, does the press have the strength and the clout to take on government abuse and this kind of demagoguery, really, if it were to happen again? >> i can envision a future in which an ed murrow of the future takes on a demagogue or exposes--"harvest of shame," "hunger in america." but right now, i think where we are, the old order is basically gone. the new order is not yet in place. >> farai?
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>> i cannot help but think of katrina. i know that seems like a different--it was a ground reporting story--i was one of the reporters there on the ground--but it also was a government story about how the government reacted. i think that the media eventually was able to cover both the ground story and the government story. the problem is how fast are we and how responsive are we? cuts to the newsroom make us less nimble and less responsive, but i believe that we still have it, or else i wouldn't be in this profession. >> farai chideya, dan rather, thank you both... >> thank you. >> for speaking on behalf of the public trust. that's it for this edition of "the future of news." from the knight studios at the newseum in washington d.c., i'm frank sesno. [applause]
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>> this program has been brought to you by a grant from the ford foundation, working with visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide. for more information, visit our web site... ñco
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