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Developing story

August 30, 2016
Developing story

Do you think what first attracted you to the profession would attract aspiring journalists?

Those who make a success of it as a career still have the same natural instincts. They’re curious, interested in what’s going on around them. They ask questions and challenge assumptions. They like to get information and share it with others. That’s what journalism is all about. 

Long-form writing, books in general – are they going to survive?

I think there’s an absolute need for long-form journalism. Young people say they get their news from the Internet and their telephone, but the majority of people still get their news from television. But you’ve got to go beyond that. Long-form journalism is critically important for our understanding of the world. It would be terrible if we lived in a world where people’s information was based on 140 characters.

Journalists play a major role in shaping stories the public sees and reads. How do you pick the news stories that we’re exposed to? 

Does the news shape our broadcast, or does our broadcast shape the news? You’ll have people argue that quite a bit. Here’s how we approach it. The classic definition of news is pretty simple. It’s what’s changed, what's different about today from yesterday. It’s what’s good; it’s what’s bad. We’re trying to report what we think is important for people to know, that actually does impact their lives in some way. It could be about their pocketbook; it could be about their safety. Our focus is on what’s important. Then you ask, “Okay, how are we going to tell these important stories in a way that people will want to see and will want to learn from?” The whole idea is to engage the public. We figure most of our audience doesn’t need to be told what to think. We’re there to give them the facts, and sometimes to give them opinions that may challenge their assumptions. 

How is social media changing what we see on the news? Are the Millennials shaping the future of news based on how they consume it?

We’re looking at the most informed generation that’s ever walked on this planet. They have access to more information than any of us ever had, that we could ever dream of. Now they’ve got to determine what they’re going to access, how they’re going to access it and what they’re going to retain. 

What’s going to be the impact of that, and how it’s going to transform the media industry, is what we’re all still trying to weigh and judge. I like to think that 50 years from now, people will still be reading books the way we do, but I don’t know what they’ll be doing five years from now. I don’t know what new technology will come along to replace what we think is just irreplaceable at this point. It’s kind of scary. 

What does that mean for the future of journalism?

What I try to tell journalism students is that no matter what the form of technology or platform the journalism comes in, it will still depend on people who can tell stories. That’s not as simple as many people would think. Social media – there’s a lot of garbage out there. At the same time, there are great possibilities. It’s still coming to grips with itself.

Journalists challenge the way business leaders think. What are your views around stories that will help executives to consider the broader social impact of what they do?

My feeling is that business leaders are no different than our political leaders, our academic leaders, our scientific leaders, our sports leaders, our union leaders. They’re all targets, and I use that word loosely, for journalists to challenge. They shouldn’t be upset if journalists are challenging the assumptions they’ve made or the statements they’re making. That’s a journalist’s job. My advice to them is very simple, but my God, the number of times I’ve seen leaders not taking this advice: Just tell the truth. Tell your story as best you can, but don't fudge it, because you’re going to lose. You’re going to get trapped.

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