Tom Herman ’68 said he still remembers an embarrassing blunder he made 37 years ago as a young reporter covering PepsiCo for The Wall Street Journal.
“I went out for drinks with a group of Pepsi representatives and when the waiter asked me what I wanted, I ordered a Coke,” Herman recalled. “The lesson is, don’t be afraid to get out there and make mistakes.”
Herman, a senior special writer for the Journal, shared his experiences as a reporter and discussed the current state of journalism with about 20 students at a Davenport College Master’s Tea Wednesday afternoon.
“These are the best of times and the worst of times in the world of journalism,” he said. “The Internet has revolutionized reporting. With everything online, it’s much easier to report news accurately today than it was in the past.”
But Herman — who writes a weekly column, “Tax Report,” for the Journal — said while the Internet and the introduction of 24-hour news networks on television have ushered in an “era of instant news,” the pressure to report news as it occurs has led to a decline in the quality of journalism.
“There is this pressure to ‘feed the beast,’ to push news out without doing good reporting,” Herman said. “Journalists are pressured to send stories out before asking the right questions and doing the right research.”
Journalists are also pressured to “stand out” in order to retain readers or viewers, Herman said.
“It frightens me when reporters offer ‘spin,’ which I call ‘bias,’ in their reporting in an attempt to stand out from their peers and increase ratings or circulation,” Herman said.
The survival of “dead-tree” newspapers is being threatened by the rising popularity of television and internet news, he said.
Students said Herman’s talk was informative and touched on important issues.
Steven Hao ’09 said he was glad to hear a critique of the media from a member of the press.
“It was interesting to hear an insider’s view on journalism,” Hao said. “It’s a perspective I hadn’t thought much about.”
Herman said he became interested in journalism when he won a scholarship sponsored by the Journal and worked as a summer intern at the Journal’s Washington, D.C., office after his junior year at Yale. Herman said he had previously intended to be a lawyer.
“I thought I’d just get a taste of what it was like to be a journalist before going into the grim practice of law,” Herman said.
After graduating from Yale, Herman covered the national food industry for the Journal, and later went on to cover topics ranging from banking to sports. He said he was among the first reporters for the Journal’s Hong Kong-based sister publication.
Herman said he gained a greater appreciation for the freedoms enjoyed by the American press while working in Southeast Asia, where many governments heavily censor the media.
Herman offered advice for students planning their career paths.
“Feel free to have a game plan, but don’t be afraid to abandon it to pursue something you enjoy,” Herman said.
Rachel Schechter ’07 said she found Herman’s advice to be helpful, as many students feel pressured to choose a career prematurely.
“I think a lot of people feel pigeonholed in terms of what they want to do,” Schechter said. “It’s definitely good to keep your options open.”
Herman said he may be interested in teaching journalism in the future.
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