Alternative facts. Fake news. Opinion pieces versus a news story. Everyone is a journalist.
These are a few of the issues facing people trying to stay informed in an increasingly fractured media landscape. To discuss these and other topics, as well as taking questions from students, was a five-person panel of journalists made up of alumni and parents (some both) during “The Evolution of Media in an Ever-Changing World” webinar Feb. 2. The panel was moderated by Director of Studies Betsy Heckman.
Panelist Draggan Mihailovich P’22, who has worked as a producer for the CBS Corp. show “60 Minutes”
for over 20 years, has seen these changes unfold. He said the only thing he used to focus on was putting on a show Sunday night. Now, there is an overtime show and social media to update. But it is the loss of local papers that concerns him the most. “The internet has really destroyed local newspapers across the country. In so many small towns you don’t even have a newspaper,” he said, adding that most big city papers are shells of what they once were.
Panelist Alden Bourne ’84, a reporter and producer for New England Public Media
(NEPM) and who was also a producer for “60 Minutes,” said he remembers when there were three networks and a few newspapers to choose from on the national level that were trusted.
“There is a wider variety of new outlets out there and the American public has a harder time agreeing what the truth is,” said Bourne, who worked on the Westminster School newspaper as a student.
Panelist Eunice Han ’84, P’21, a business news anchor and reporter with more than 10 years of experience in TV, digital, audio and print, said social media has blurred the lines between trustworthy categories.
“[Former President Donald] Trump made Twitter a valid source,” she said. “Social media is so fast and so prevalent; it has become a source for traditional media.”
Panelist Soledad O’Brien P’19, ’20, ’24, ’24, CEO of Soledad O’Brien Productions
, said when she first started there were certain people who could ‘go live’ but with advances in technology anyone with a phone can broadcast.
“Social media and the internet changed everything. It’s about access — who gets it and how quickly. But sometimes incorrectly. It’s had a devastating effect in many areas and terrific effect in some,” she said.
That stratification, getting information from 280 characters, versus a 1,500 word story, a radio segment, television, or the myriad social media apps, can mean consumers have very different impressions of the same event.
Panelist Daniel D’Addario ’06, Variety
’s chief TV critic who produces reviews, features and interviews for the magazine, said technology has given everyone a voice if they choose to use it, which is a great leveling, democratizing force but it can undercut real expertise.
“Where do people turn to get an objective set of facts? That kind of work, where we agreed upon reality, has gone away,” he said.
O’Brien said social media has been helpful in elevating certain voices that you might not be exposed to, but it has done a disservice as it pushes the speed of how fast people need to report. Cutbacks on all levels of media is another issue.
“[The Associated Press] AP used to have three or four reporters covering state legislatures. Now it’s down to one or zero,” said Mihailovich. That means there’s no watchdog and that can lead to corruption, such as gerrymandering that nobody sees coming before it’s too late.
O’Brien relayed a story about a community newspaper reporter who became the de facto source for coronavirus vaccine information. “She was receiving hundreds of calls asking her for help and she takes every single one,” said O’Brien. “That’s the job. That’s the gig, right. She wanted to serve her community.”
There are bright spots, said Mihailovich, such as The New York Times podcast “The Daily” that has 4 million listeners.
Bourne said “60 Minutes” is doing as well as ever — it’s often at or near the top of the TV ratings — and The Washington Post‘s newsroom staff is at a record number, which shows people are craving reliable information.
Problems arise when news organization on any platform care more about headlines and making a splash than the news itself, the panelists said. When those in charge are looking for “good TV” that can mean elevating a lie for ratings purposes or retweeting a falsehood to gain traction. Not everyone has the consumers best interest in mind.
“If the point is to go viral, that’s not journalism,” said Mihailovich.
Fox News has news programming during the day and opinion during the evening hours, which does not have to meet the same standard as daytime reporting, said D’Addario. But how many viewers know that or understand that switch?
“That to me is somewhat troubling,” he said, adding it used to be clear in a newspaper that opinions were on the editorial pages and the rest was truth. But opinions are easier as you don’t have to do all the work and get straight all those “pesky facts.”
Those facts, a love of the written word, the desire to tell stories, to hold people accountable, to give people information — to help — were many of the reasons the panelists got into journalism.
Students asked for advice about entering the journalism field. O’Brien said try and get an internship, even if that means fetching coffee, like she did. It will teach you multi-tasking and you will get a sense of whether or not you have a passion for it.
“Learn to write,” said Mihailovich. “Anybody that can write and tell a story is going to get a job in journalism. You see fewer and fewer people with the ability to write. It sets you apart.”
Bourne said be open about your initial job. He was working as a limo driver and writing the afternoon news at an easy listening radio station when he started. “Be open minded how you get in,” he said.
Han worked at CNBC from midnight to 8:30 a.m. making coffee and pulling video, among other tasks, all while learning the ropes. She said there are different roles in media and you may not realize what one is right for you until you try something.
O’Brien stressed that whatever you do, hard work will take you far. She suggested starting a password-protected podcast on your iPhone. “You can do that now,” she said, adding you will learn and grow through the effort.
The panelists were realistic but hopeful about job prospects. The field keeps morphing, but there are opportunities.
“Young people should not necessarily feel discouraged,” said D’Addario. “As things get winnowed down we are going to need our absolute best. Who better to be inventive and scrappy than the young?”
O’Brien agreed that young people with various social media accounts are well positioned to use the different apps. One piece of content can live on several platforms. “There’s no more ‘oh I do this one thing;’ and young people are positioned well for this,” she said.
Bourne said the jobs can be difficult to get, but it’s a great way to make a living.
“You’re basically being paid to be educated. It’s hard but it’s awesome. And we need you,” he said.
Photo Caption: Top row, Alden Bourne ’84 and Daniel D’Addario ’06. Second row, Eunice Han ’84, P’21, Draggan Mihailovich P’22 and Soledad O’Brien P’19, ’20, ’24, ’24.