Brokaw Details Media Changes
Speech issues mixed verdict on proliferation of news sources
NBC Nightly News Anchor and Managing Editor Tom Brokaw spoke to a packed ARCO forum at the Kennedy School of Government last night on the effect the proliferation of media outlets has had in society.
Brokaw was originally supposed to give last night's Theodore H. White Lecture in November, but delayed it when the presidential contest was not resolved on schedule.
In his talk, "So Much Information and So Little Time," Brokaw said the proliferation of news sources has empowered readers and viewers--who are no longer beholden to just a few newsgathering organizations.
"The news universe is richer, more accessible, and more far reaching than it ever has been before," Brokaw said.
Brokaw said that, on the flip side, more isn't necessarily better. He is concerned that the quality of journalism may be sacrificed to the constant need for news.
"The new order has a voracious appetite for something--anything--to fill time," he said. "It is seldom reporting in the classic sense. Hot pursuits on the California freeway are the maddening apotheosis of this modern curse."
But the "old order" had problems too, according to Brokaw. He said the media had historically covered such issues as the Cold War, the race for space, and racial issues while ignoring issues like health, rock and roll, and black culture.
Brokaw said the journalism industry faces a challenge in finding what is truly important in the smorgasbord of available information. He outlined what he called the "Brokaw Theorem" for determining what is newsworthy. He said the newness and importance of the news must first be determined, then the truth beyond the story must be found, and then the context and presentation for the story must be developed in a way that it can engage the audience.
Brokaw also stressed that journalists should understand the challenges faced by the people they are covering.
"If I could, I would take anyone who comes to power in American journalism and make them subject to a news story," he said. The story, Brokaw said, would be on the front page of every newspaper.
"Then they would have a keen understanding of what so many interesting people go through."
After his address, Brokaw fielded questions from the audience.
One student asked Brokaw about his most memorable interview.
"The ordinary people, whose names I can't remember, are the most memorable people who I covered," he responded.
Brokaw also said in response to a questioner that the collapse of communism in 1989 was the most important event he has covered.
Lara A. Setrakian '04, an audience member, said she was impressed with Brokaw's personality.
"For someone who handles such serious issues on a daily basis he was remarkably witty," Setrakian said. "If I knew that all news personalities were this personable I would be much more inclined to turn on the television."
Setrakian also said that she appreciated Brokaw's modesty. Brokaw joked in his speech about how he had been denied admission to Harvard.
The lecture was sponsored by the Institute of Politics (IOP) and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.