Brokaw: Journalism can be saved

Tom Brokaw, NBC News correspondent, gives a talk on “The Future of Journalism.”
Tom Brokaw, NBC News correspondent, gives a talk on “The Future of Journalism.” Photo by Sarah Scott.

Journalism will survive the significant challenges it faces only if it succeeds in engaging and empowering readers and viewers, NBC News special correspondent Tom Brokaw said Tuesday.

Before a packed auditorium in the Whitney Humanities Center, Brokaw argued that new forms of journalism hold great promise but that they must be used thoughtfully. Journalists need to be more proactive in promoting journalism as a vital part of society, he said.

“For too long we have talked and you the viewers have listened, we wrote and you read,” Brokaw said. “Now [the media] needs to engage readers and viewers in the future of journalism … The new viewer is empowered as never before to satisfy his needs and curiosity.”

Before addressing the future of journalism, Brokaw recalled the power of network television news to bring people across the country together. Still, he acknowledged the limits of journalism’s prior generation, including a failure to cover gender issues, the health sciences and Asia.

Today, he said, the world faces a starkly different problem. Rather than having a relative scarcity of informed coverage, consumers of media can now pick and choose information from countless news sources, including network television, newspapers and the Internet.

“Does this new reality of television represent a step forward, or is it simply a retreat to the lowest common denominator of common interest and exploitation?” Brokaw asked. “The answer: all of the above.”

Brokaw challenged the audience to take an active part in the modern wave of journalism by choosing its news sources carefully and being wary of misinformation that may appear in the unfiltered media.

While journalism is alive, Brokaw said, it is on “life support.” But he said he sees promise in collectives of investigative journalists who sell their work to newspapers, television networks and Web sites. These transactions make the news more reliable and assist viewers in making informed decisions, he said, while also providing a sustainable financial model for journalism.

The four students interviewed said the talk brought out the tensions created by new technology and ways of getting information.

“The benefits of new technology in the journalism industry are striking, but it is clear from Mr. Brokaw we need to be cautious, careful and innovative in our business models,” Peggy Liu ’11 said.

Rachel Styer ’12, however, said she had difficulty connecting on a personal level with Brokaw’s experiences.

“His talk was insightful, but I wish he were more relatable,” Styer said. “His anecdotes seemed to be from another era of journalism, and I couldn’t really relate to some of the issues he was trying to convey.”

Over the course of his 47-year career, Brokaw has served as anchor of “NBC Nightly News” and “Today.” He has also made 25 documentaries on a variety of subjects, including Watergate and global warming.


  • Kaylee Cochrane

    My major is english and I want to be a journalist some day, but with the economic downturn and the cutting back on printing papers that doesnt seen posssible. My major is english and I have no alternative so I hope this goes back up and people decide to keep printing papers.

  • Hieronymus

    “[Wi]th the economic downturn and the cutting back on printing papers [it] doesnt seen (sic) posssible [that I will become a journalist]. My major is english (sic) and I have no alternative so I hope this goes back up and people decide to keep printing papers.”

    Wow. Where do I begin?

    My first advice: give up now.

    Media, heck, “journalism” is all around you. Blogs (even successful, i.e., paying blogs) are all around you. Check “Pioneer Woman.” Google “Zo Nation.” Look at how O’Keefe and Giles (age 20!) have brought down ACORN.

    So, poster #1, that you want to tie your wagon to near-dead, paper-based, legacy media despite the burgeoning and boisterous opportunity set before you speaks more to your own lack of drive and entrepreneurship than it does the economy.

    Oh, and getting a handle on your “english” (sic) might help too.

    Just sayin’.

  • George Patsourakos

    I believe that the Internet has had — and will continue to have — a significant negative impact on newspapers. Scores of newspapers have gone out of business because of the Internet.

    I can picture the day — perhaps three or four years from now — when newspapers will be a thing of the past.

  • KarlNidray

    Brokaw is an elitist charlatan pretending to be an elder statesman of the news industry. He is full of prejudice and eager to embrace irresponsible positions. Just read his interview with Obama at Buchenwald this past June. Shameless!

  • Former Journalist

    I find it ironic that Brokaw – given his actions that ultimately led him to be let go from the news industry – is preaching about saving it.

  • Doug E

    The PLM (Partisan Liberal Media) is on life support. The honest media like FOX and the WSJ are doing OK.
    Whether in print, broadcast or cable, the common denominator for failure is a liberal agenda.
    The main stream media used to be biased to the Left. When that failed to achieve their goals they moved firmly into partisan propoganda. A million conservatives marching is simply ignored, while twelve liberals sending out a fax dominates the news cycle.
    Blatant intellectual dishonesty appears to be bad for business. Thank God that Obama hasn’t nationaized the media…yet.

  • John

    To Kaylee Cochrane, I have an English degree and after a short stint making poverty wages working in the publishing decided to remake my career path and have done quite well. An English degree is not a set of shackles binding you to a particular set of careers.

    To Tom Brokaw, whenever I feel any concern of the possible death of traditional journalism and network news, I see things like the media’s behavior on the ACORN story that make me think it’s time for them to go. Not only have they ignored the organization for years and ignored the current controversy as long as possible but instead of investigating ACORN, themselves, they’ve turned their attention to looking for ways to smear James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, to the point where published accusations that they were motivated by racism (for which there was no evidence) had to be retracted by the Washington Post and AP. Traditional journalists have abused their role as gatekeepers of information to promote political agendas and fewer and fewer trust them with that role. They have nobody to blame but themselves for the rise of talk radio, Fox News and bloggers.

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