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Opening Remarks

Orville Schell, dean, UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
James Risser, Stanford University Knight Fellowship Program
Tom Rosensteil, Committe of Concerned Journalists
David Weir, Salon Magazine
David Talbot, Salon Magazine


Orville Schell: ...I think one of the things that impresses me about this subject is that nobody really quite knows where it's all going. Being an emphatic non-expert, I constantly seek the counsel of people who I imagine know a good deal, and very often I get sort of shrugs and hands thrown up into the air.

We just had a conference over at the Freedom Forum that Adam Powell ran. It occurred to me sitting with all of these people from journalism schools trying to figure out this field, that in a certain sense we are all a little bit like teenagers. We all assume that other people must know what's going on, must be popular, must have some sense of what life is all about. I think probably the truth is otherwise. What we're really here to deliberate on today is what is the nature of this beast, new journalism; where is it going; and what are the right questions we ought to be asking about it.

One of the things in setting up this conference, which is quite unusual in that an enormous amount of discussion and preparation has gone into it, we also were quite emphatic about the fact that this should not be old media versus new media. That's kind of a weary divide. Really what we wanted to do was bring together the people who were in the field of new media to look at themselves. They will make the best critique and that critique I think will be most assimilatable by those who are doing it.

The truth is that the problems which confront all the new media are really the same. The challenge is to be credible, to do a good job, to do excellent journalism. The problems are speed, the bottom line, survival, how do we make going ventures out of these things? This is no different than what the LA Times is confronting when it's trying to get together people from the business side with the editorial side to figure out how to make a go of it. This is a common enterprise, and I think everybody is a bit panicked, everybody is a bit worried that we are in fact being left behind. I'm not sure who's out in front but I don't think there are very many people who feel tremendously confident. So new media is injected in a very interesting measure of uncertainty, I think failure of nerve, a lack of confidence in almost every aspect of the media.

Finally, I think the challenge of us today and indeed in the years to come is to bring the varieties of old journalism, of good journalism, into new media and bring some of the technology, the very exciting possibilities that it poses in terms of diversity, pluralism, a great new vibrancy, a new frontier to old journalism. So I think that what we need to do is get remarried somehow. We should not be considering this divide as a divorce, but as a potential way to get together to bring the benefits and the positive aspects of each side of this equation into a new balance.

Let me just say one thing. This is a very auspicious moment for us to be here in Berkeley. I have the feeling in this conference that the Committee of Concerned Journalists have funded through the Pews Trust, has been a wonderful moment for us because all of the pieces for a collegium on this subject are right here in the Bay area. Many of you are sitting here right now. We have launched a new program here at Berkeley which I hope will pick up these pieces, put them in some configuration, because actually this is the great benefit of the university. It's not a company, it's not a publication, it actually can serve as kind of a neutral territory for everybody to get together and think through some of these questions which really lie at the heart of the future of the whole craft of journalism.

I want to thank Deirdre English, who worked months on this to bring all of you together, get moderators talking with panelists, participants. I think it's going to be a very interesting day, somewhat free form. We don't know where quite it's going to go. I hope by the end of the day we'll have figured out some questions we want to keep in mind and may ask again another year to see how this thing has rolled along as it goes through another course of evolution.

We're going to hear briefly from Jim Risser of the Knight Fellowship at Stanford. Then Tom Rosenstiel from the Committee of Concerned Journalists will say a few words. David Weir, who's on the faculty here teaching will say a few words. Then finally, we are going to unleash David Talbot from Salon Magazine and let him rip for I forget how many minutes, and then we'll head into the first panel which is the promise and threat of new media.

So I thank you all for coming. I hope you have a great time. I hope it doesn't rain so we can have lunch in the courtyard, and we'll be seeing more of you. Jim?

Jim Risser: Thanks, Orville. I am Jim Risser and I'm Director of the John S. Knight Fellowships for professional journalists at Stanford University which is a mid-career sabbatical program for professional journalists, some of whom are participating today, and we're happy to be able to cosponsor this conference. I don't know for sure why all of you are here today. I'll tell you why I'm here. I come out of the kind of old media background that Orville referred to, specifically newspaper journalism.

I believe, as most journalists do, in the old time-honored traditions of journalism, the role of eyes and ears of the people, watchdog over government and public institutions, and adherence to all the standards of accuracy and fairness and so on. At the same time, I very much believe in innovation, in methods of news coverage and technology and new ways of looking at things. Journalism, like any other institution, can benefit from change, and I'm sure we're going to hear a lot about that today.

The trick, as I'm sure we'll hear today and as Orville implied, is we've got to employ the new technology while preserving the best of what we think are the old journalistic standards that so many of us have fought for and defended over the years.

Journalism of all types -- traditional and new -- is under fire these days with stories out of Washington and other places that have severely tested the performance of both new media and old media, and I suppose showed what a wondrous and undisciplined thing the first amendment is. In lots of ways the future of journalism is up for grabs, and we have a variety of speakers today who are highly qualified to talk about these new and old issues, and I look forward to hearing from all of them as I'm sure all of you do. Thanks.

Orville Schell: Thanks, Jim.

Tom is the Vice Chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists and heads the Project for Excellence in Journalism, spent many years at the LA Times, is now situated in Washington. He's going to provide us with a sort of history of the series of forums which have been held. His Co-Chair is Bill Kovach at the Nieman Center at Harvard who couldn't be here because of the selection process for Nieman Fellows. But Tom...

Tom Rosenstiel: Thanks, Orville.

This is the ninth in a series of conferences around the country that the Committee of Concerned Journalists is sponsoring. The Committee is a collaboration of people in journalism, journalistic institutions, old media, new media -- 950 people, roughly, who have signed a statement of concern about the future of the profession, who are really bound only by one idea which is that reflection about journalism is not dangerous, but it's healthy.

Journalism was for many of the years that we practiced it, a kind of tautology. Journalism was whatever journalists did because the barriers to entry were very high. If CBS decided that you didn't pay for news, well, okay, that's how journalists operated.

Today, now that anybody with a Web site can publish, it's incumbent on us in journalism to think much, much more rigorously about what it is that separates journalism from other forms of communication. It is not simply the act of standing on a street corner and shouting and publishing. Is journalism the same as talk radio? Is infotainment journalism? What are the distinguishing and essential characteristics that should endure, if any, as journalism and technology changes? And technology, I should add, I think is not the singular pressure that is forcing a lot of these changes. I think economics play a profound role in this. The changes, let's say in network news in the last five years probably cannot be attributed as much to an expanding television dial as they can to changing ownership and leveraged buyout demands and things like that.

So what is it that distinguishes journalism from other forms of communications? Well, we have gone through other periods of dramatic change, and some principles have endured.

It's interesting to go back and look at the introduction to Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian Wars. He talks about the use of multiple sources with direct knowledge as the best way to get an accurate account of events.

Ben Franklin's discussion of ethics seems fairly contemporary today.

We have had, as I said, nine of these so far and we have heard some surprising, I might even call it testimony from journalists. Each of the forums is focused usually around either some great issue or some question of principle. We've heard from many that neutrality may not be an essential value of journalism, but independence from faction is. That fidelity to accuracy is a kind of fundamental value. That faith and democracy is perhaps one of the most fundamental values. And that we serve democracy as journalists not by an allegiance to a particular outcome or a particular side in disputes, but more basically to an idea. The idea that is embedded in the first amendment that out of a diversity of views we have the best chance of seeking or finding the truth.

So what we're trying to do through these forums is not to impose any agenda, because I really think the value of this is in finding the common ground between different media, and the Committee is distinguished, I think, by the fact that it is not a trade association. It is not bound by a given media. We are not investigative reporters, we are not television. We are all of those things. Our members include Ben Bradley and students of journalism. We have many, many Pulitzer winners. We have people on the Internet in their 20s who are interested in journalism and aren't sure where it's going. This is an allegiance seeking out information and finding what values we share in common as a way of deciding or discerning what values probably should endure as evolved.

Orville Schell: Thank you, Tom.

David Weir has done many things. He's been an Executive Vice President of KQUD, Vice President in charge of content at Wire Digital. He's now a New Media teaching fellow here at Berkeley, trying to parse through the question of what is it that new media is all about and how do you teach it to people who are interested in getting into it.

David Weir: Thanks, Orville.

I'm one of the people when Orville consults to say what's going on in new media, says hmm, I'm not quite sure, so I'll start with that. And also say it may have been an oxymoron -- I'm looking at Louis when I say this, to say I was in content at Wire Digital, but we'll get into that later, maybe. (Laughter)

We have a special interest. We share the perspectives and the concerns Tom articulated for the Committee. We have a special stake here at the school. We teach journalism. We, for a long time, have been trying to help form excellent journalists. We're not in the business of teaching mediocrity, we hope. And in that quest, we teach values, we teach principles, we teach ethics, we teach operating procedures. We teach things like penetrating secrecy, getting the whole story, securing the facts, documenting your story, authoritativeness. We talk about values like giving a voice to the voiceless, compassion, trying to do less harm than good. We talk about a lot of things here at the school. Therefore, that conversation, however, has been a relatively unbroken line with the past until recently.

Then all of a sudden about three years ago, we ran smack into new media. All of a sudden we had to concentrate some of our energy, and as our students in the new media program right now will testify, a lot of our time, talking about hypertext linking, talking about navigation, talking about how do you reflect a depth of content, talking about business plans. I'll come back to that in a minute. Talking about a lot of things we didn't talk about in journalism until a few years ago.

At the same time as we're talking about these new facets, these new operational aspects of doing our jobs and helping them prepare for their jobs, we started realizing that there were larger questions underlying those sort of functionalities that we needed to probe.

Is the relationship between us as journalists and our audiences, is that relationship undergoing some sort of fundamental shift? What is interactivity? We get interactivity when we talk to the machine and it acts back to us. What's interactivity with the audience and what kind of potential is there for a change, an emergence of the multiform storytelling and interactive storytelling, new forms of ways to pursue our craft? These kinds of questions are on our mind.

And as I said also, under the influence of working in new media and of bringing many of you into our school, questions get raised. What business are we in? What is the business of journalism? What great social need is it that we are the answer to?

There's a real soul searching going on. And meantime, all of our colleagues trying to create the Web sites... Serious journalism Web sites. By the way, we have in this room today, as I was saying to Tom, a very nice chunk of the people trying to do serious content in new media right now. I'm talking mainly just about the Web, but I think this is a very important moment for us.

What we hope today to do, we hope you will help us do, is to raise the questions that we can keep asking in our classes. One of those questions I hope will be what is our responsibility at this changing moment when the entire underlying economics of journalism are going through this transformation. Our responsibility to participate in forming that business plan.

One of our old cherished values is the church/state line. We don't do that stuff. We don't talk about business. That's for those other guys, the guys in the suits. (Laughter) In any event, that moment may have come; that moment may have changed. Or has it? If we don't figure out the business plan is the business plan going to be figured out for us? If so, are the people -- I may have a hint who's going to figure out the business plan, by the way, but I won't give that now. And if that happens, who's going to be determining what excellence in journalism is? What's our voice going to be?

I'll stop there, but I just wanted to say, again with the others, welcome. Thank you for coming to our school. We hope very much that this process of raising questions that we don't know the answers to, and when you teach a long time you learn something about teaching. The best seminars are the ones where you open the class asking a question and you don't know what the answer is at all. We don't know the answers to these questions. We don't presume to know. If you'll help us, we hope this is the beginning of a dialogue, the beginning of a true new media center here at Berkeley, where these questions are surfaced in a continuous way. Thanks.

Orville Schell: Thanks, David. You all might want to look at the statement of concern that you may also want to sign that's on the table from the Committee of Concerned Journalists at break time.

In a certain sense I think David Talbot is rally the perfect, the quintessential evolutionary example of how you move from traditional media into new media, having come from magazine publishing and working in the San Francisco Examiner, and then moving over with a group of his colleagues to start Salon where he is not only founder and editor, but CEO. In many ways this is one of the most exciting publications I think that's come on-line, and he's going to tell us a little bit about what's been going on there.

David Talbot: Thank you, Orville.

In the true spirit of the Internet, I hope to offend a lot of you here this morning, and if I haven't done that by the time I'm through, I've failed, so let me know whether you're outraged or irritated at least by the time I finish.

I'm just going to run down a list of stories that you may or may not have heard about or read about because of the failures and erratic performance of the old media.

Richard Mellon Scaife, a strange and obsessive Pittsburgh billionaire who has dedicated his life in recent years to undermining if not bringing down the Clinton presidency for political reasons, set up a project known as the Arkansas Project, and money from that project went to Kenneth Starr's chief Whitewater witness, David Hale.

Salon broke that story. We broke it on March 16th. But it took days, if not weeks, for that story to finally circulate into the mainstream press, and only after the Justice Department announced that Hale should be investigated, and there is now a momentous tug of war between Mr. Starr's office and the Justice Department over who will carry out that investigation. Why the mainstream media took so long to pick up no the story and focus the kind of attention it richly deserved is a question that I think we should ask ourselves today.

Salon has also followed up that piece with other notable stories on the same subject. Rex Armistead, a private eye who worked for Mr. Scaife, spied on CNN's correspondent John Camp, spied on his private life, assembled a dossier on Mr. Camp that ended up somehow in the hands of the House Banking Committee.

Hickman Ewing, who is Mr. Starr's right hand man in Little Rock, the man who runs the Little Rock investigating army of Starr's operation, has met privately and quietly with this same investigator, Rex Armistead.

The same project, people associated with the same project set up by Mr. Scaife, the Arkansas Project, helped bail out the Paula Jones lawsuit against the President at a critical moment when that suit was about to fold. Money from the Arkansas Project ended up in her defense fund.

Finally, a story that we just broke a couple of days ago, people associated with the Arkansas Project wrote stories and planted stories that ended up in the Washington Times and the OpEd pages of the Wall Street Journal that were then used by Kenneth Starr's office to force the dismissal of a key judge in Arkansas, Federal Judge Henry Woods, who was presiding over a case involving former Governor Jim Tucker.

These are all extremely significant stories. We feel they're at least as important as the avalanche of trivia that's been served up on the Monica Lewinsky case. Yet for the most part this is what we continue to hear about over and over again from our mainstream media -- on television and in press.

I want to explore some reasons why I think this is the case. There's been a lot of questions about the declining standards, the shabby kind of journalistic performance of new media, but I think just about every fault you can find with media in America today has been creeping up within old media first. And it's old media that really has more to answer for it. It's old media that's become obsessively market driven, that's been dumbed down, that's been celebrity driven, that's become sensationalistic, whose commentary is dominated by conservative mud slingers. I'm going to mention some specific examples here.

There was a lot of hue and cry about the TWA 800 conspiracy story that that flight was shot down by a Navy missile, by friendly fire. People said oh, my God, this story bubbled up on the Internet and somehow developed credence as a result of that. Well that story only developed credibility because Pierre Salinger of ABC News found it credible enough to disseminate.

There's the Internet and there's the Internet. There's credible news organizations like Slate and Salon and CNET, and then there's the kind of wacky babble that happens anywhere in American life, in use net groups and in reader forums on the Internet. Well, we're talking about the Internet that's... The news aspect of the Internet. That story was picked up by the mainstream press and disseminated, when the rest of the media on-line knew it for the kind of shabby story that it was.

The Wall Street Journal and the Dallas Morning News on-line, and their on-line news operations, were forced to pull back stories days later about a White House steward and Secret Service who supposedly saw Ms. Lewinsky and the President alone together. It's the LA Times, as Orville mentioned earlier, that's been pioneering in the kind of novel concept of having business managers sit with news editors to determine what the newspaper should be covering -- something I don't know of happening at any on-line publication that I'm aware of.

The most idiotic media on politics in America is not Matt Drudge, and I'll get to him later, but Chris Matthews' show Hardball, and Larry King's program on CNN. This is the kind of... Matt Drudge, by the way, has been of course now heralded by being picked up on Meet the Press, and he's now with Fox News.

I'll skip ahead, Orville. (Laughter)

The fact is that on-line media is in a very infant stage, that we're finding our way as we go along, but that we have begun to distinguish ourselves in ways that I think the old media can learn from. When you look at the kind of coverage of technology issues that CNET has pioneered in and wired news, in the kind of coverage of politics that Salon and Slate have pioneered in. These are things that I think shake up the media in creative ways and are inspiring.

What I'm particularly inspired by is the possibility of groups of people splintering off from the old media as we did at Salon. People who are steeped in professional standards, that believe in multiple sources, and believe in hard reporting, aggressive reporting, believe in good editing, but feel hidebound by the constraints, the financial, political, cultural constraints of working within the old media, and strike out on their own.

I think we have to look back to the early days of underground newspapers, to early days of FM radio for our inspiration, and many of us have been inspired by those earlier examples, in establishing a journalism that's more independent.

It cost us $2 million to launch Salon magazine about two and a half years ago. That's a fraction of what it would cost to launch, of course, a daily newspaper or a print magazine. That cost has probably risen now to $4 or $5 million, is what it would cost to put together a decent newsroom and a decent operation. But still, it's doable.

So I challenge people within the old media who feel stifled, who feel hemmed in by what they can and can't do, to think entrepreneurially. I was inspired by what Louis Rossetto did with HotWired. I was inspired by what was happening at CNET here locally. I think California is in a much better position to launch this new enterprise, this news enterprise, than some of the, than the East Coast. Because the East Coast is, I think, very established and very stuck in its ways.

There's money here. There's entrepreneurial money that can be raised. There's talent here. There's the technology here. And my hope is that more and more flowers bloom here in the Bay area and Seattle. That's what inspires me as I look towards the future.

Orville Schell: Thank you, David.

On to Panel 1: The Promise and Threat of New Media

Back to: The Conference Program

Panelists and speakers at the conference came from a wide variety of new media companies and organizations.

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