Bernard Gwertzman, who has traveled to the Middle East with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Union in Moscow, has had a front-row seat for the evolution of modern journalism.
Gwertzman, one of America’s most respected journalists and foreign-policy experts, spoke Tuesday to a crowd of about 30 students at an Ezra Stiles College Master’s Tea, at which he shared anecdotes from his decades of assignments around the globe and discussed the evolution and future of journalism in an increasingly digital world.
“I started in journalism when it was very old-fashioned,” said Gwertzman, who began reporting in the 1950s and went on to report for the Washington Star and The New York Times.
Gwertzman likened the journalism of his youth to a 1930s movie with “guys sitting around a table, telling jokes to each other and smoking.” Articles were written on typewriters, underwater cables were required to transmit stories abroad and the print media was the primary way most people got their news, he said.
But increased technology has fostered new journalistic practices that have put a financial squeeze on many newspapers, he said. Millions of people obtain their news from the Internet and television — a phenomenon that Gwertzman said is efficient for consumers but may cause readers to skip certain articles.
“I can read the newspaper cover to cover if I have the time,” Gwertzman said. “I don’t read the Internet version with the [same] thoroughness.”
But there is an upside to improved technology and virtual news — it is easy to obtain, he said.
Gwertzman’s status as an old-time journalist does not keep him from surfing the Web to obtain news, he said. He said he helped pioneer the age of online news as the founding editor of nytimes.com, which was launched in January 1996. Gwertzman recalls that the publisher of the newspaper was “hotly against giving it away” at no cost, even though other newspapers were doing so.
At that time, he said, nobody at the paper believed nytimes.com was worth “the time of day.” Yet today, millions of users access the Web site to obtain news.
In fact, many people at The Times believe that blogging is the future, he said. Gwertzman said although blogging can be beneficial at times, he is disturbed by some bloggers’ “crummy writing and thought process.”
Aside from the journalistic memories, history and predictions, Gwertzman, a noted foreign policy expert, spent part of his talk commenting on political issues.
He said the United States was forced to “scrape together a coalition” of countries to fight in Iraq because the United States rushed to war. Ideally, the United States should have let the United Nations get involved from the beginning in order to lend the effort greater international legitimacy, he said.
Students interviewed said listening to Gwertzmann’s experience was informative and thought-provoking.
“It’s really great to listen to someone whose expertise has spanned so many decades,” Avi Kupfer ’10 said.
Mike Educate ’11 said he was familiar with Gwertzman’s journalism before the talk and appreciated the opportunity to hear from him first-hand.
“I’ve read some of his work,” he said. “It was very enlightening and engaging.”