of Journalism and Mass Communications
Honors and Awards Night
Address by Gerald Boyd
It's a pleasure to be here today and to be
a part of the wonderful set of activities that your school
of journalism and mass communications is putting on this week.
It is almost worth the trip to see Dean Bierbauer
again. We had a lot of strange and wonderful times covering
the Reagan White House together and I'll carry many of our
secrets to my grave or at least until Harper Collins publishes
my memoir next year.
Actually, I just finished a chapter entitled,
"What White House correspondents do when the camera is
turned off and Secret Service agents aren't looking?"
Not really. Seriously, I will
share one memory. Covering
a pressure filled beat like the White House
gives us an opportunity to see some of the best and worst
that journalism has to offer. The competition is intense,
the travel endless and the demands unreal.
You learn quickly who the
real pros are. Those are the ones you jump in the trenches
with without a second thought. That was your dean.
He was right up there with the best of the best, smart,
calm, fair and thorough. It was hard to believe that he was
a broadcast journalist.
I am delighted to be here
and to talk about "Challenges in Changing Times: The
World of Journalism Today."
It's a subject that I have not just thought about,
but I have lived intensely over the last two years, when I was the Managing Editor of The
New York Times.
I took over the number two
job at The Times five days before the terrorists
attack of 9/11.
Today, journalism is undergoing
change and that change is
real and permanent. And I am here to argue the following:
That while journalism is a calling - a noble profession, if
you will - it is also a living and breathing thing that must
evolve to be relevant to its readers, listeners and viewers.
In other words, journalism cannot engage the public effectively
by remaining static. And the need to find better ways to evolve
is perhaps the most difficult challenge we face.
So I am here tonight to discuss
three issues that I believe are critical for journalism as
we look to the future -- leadership, accountability and diversity.
Now why do I say this: Because today, we live in a time when
news and information sources, are endless -- from Web sites
to list serves from entertainment shows to talk radio.
And when President Bush tells
ABC's Diane Sawyer that he prefers to get his news not from
journalists but from "people he trusts who give me the
actual news and don't editorialize" or when Arnold Schwarzenegger
goes on Jay Leno to announce his candidacy for Governor of
California, they are reflecting a sign of the times.
Sure, the press remains vital
to communicating with the public. But don't think for a second,
it's the only game in town. And don't think that those who
work in Washington or, in fact, elected officials everywhere
aren't aware of and already skilled at exploiting this trend.
Your generation knows this better than anyone.
And I have another concern.
Increasingly today, people can function as their own editors.
You can decide what you want, when you want and how much you
To me, both these developments
are troublesome and potentially dangerous.
When I started in journalism
-- three decades ago -- the fault lines were clearly drawn.
The press was there as the prime and often only source for
communicating with the public. And it was a mission that the
public accepted and understood. After all, that was our role,
our public responsibility. At the end of the day, few questioned
whether we had the public's interest at heart.
That view of the press was
very much in evidence in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
Esteem for the media rose to record levels; the circulation
of newspapers shot up -- at The Times circulation
rose by almost 100,000 in the first week -- as did the number
of people watching television news and listening to the radio.
The reason, I believe, was simple:
we faced a dangerous and confusing time. And searching
for answers, the public needed us and needed us greatly.
Today, I would submit, that
picture is murky and in fact, is becoming murkier. A lot of
the public doesn't see the press as operating in its interest.
Let me explain what I mean.
Recently, a journalism study group called the Project for
Excellence in Journalism did a comprehensive review of the
current state of the profession and public attitudes. The
findings are scary.
The percentage of people who rate their daily newspapers
as believable dropped to 59 percent in 2002 from 80 percent
more: Over that same 17 year period, the number
of people who believe news organizations generally get
their facts straight declined from 55 percent to 35 percent;
those who think news organizations are politically biased
rose from 45 to 59 percent; and those who believe news
organizations try to cover up their mistakes rose from
13 to 67 percent.
I want to spend my remaining time talking about the news media
and what we must do to change these impressions. Unless, we
do the future becomes obvious: Rather than remaining the first choice,
traditional news organizations will increasingly be marginalized
and find themselves taking a back seat to other information
am I so concerned?
I can still remember the good old days, when journalists smoked
too much and drank too much. There were lot of bottles in
our newsrooms -- but they certainly weren't bottles of water.
world we live in today is a world where kids kill kids and
priests abuse children. It a world of living with AIDS not
dying from AIDS and telling people why they should care. It's
one where more Americans than not own stocks and where Alan
Greenspan is as important as Tom Daschle. Quick, who is the
Democratic leader in the House?
I started in journalism, we could go into the ghettos and
small towns and write about the noble struggle of blacks wanting
and deserving civil rights.
was a good story, actually a great story, full of heroes and
the story of race in America is a story of paradoxes, with
more shades of gray than black or white. And it reaches beyond
race into areas that include immigration, education, and class,
just to name a few.
today is about navigating a world of ever expanding information
sources, and making people understand how what we do is different
from Web blogs and Entertainment Tonight. That means letting
them know that we care as much about them and their lives
as we do about profits and rating and ridiculous counting
methods, such as audience penetration.
those challenges do not begin to tell the half of it.
Our nation and the world changed in a fundamental way
as a result of the terrorist attacks on Washington and New
York two years ago. Those attacks launched an era of new realities
for us as Americans in how we work, play and live.
about all that has happened since then: Increased security
at public buildings, new security at airports, increased awareness
of threats from bio-terrorism such as anthrax, new procedures
for shooting down commercial airplanes, a significant realignment
of U.S. military and foreign policy goals, and reassessment
of long held civil liberty protections. And as you know, we
have fought two wars since then and are still fighting them.
once tried to describe to a group of journalists from Japan
what that day meant to America.
as I kept thinking about 9/11, the coordinated use of jumbo
jets as guided missiles, the President moving around the country
in total secrecy, the grounding of the nation's entire commercial
airline fleet, the markets shutting down, and above all, two
thousand New Yorkers going to work that morning never to be
heard from again, I told them that this was the day that America
lost her innocence.
me, what I will recall for the rest of my life is how my wife
Robin and I had to explain to our son Zachary, who was then
five, about good people and bad people and where people go
when they died. I remember how it took him the longest time
to shake the image of planes crashing into the Twin Towers.
Each night, he would end his prayers by saying, "Please
Lord take care of the people who died at the World Trade Center."
our world today.
over the last few months, I have asked myself if we are doing
all that we can as journalists to meet the challenges of this
new day. And increasingly I have found myself answering no.
I'm sure that some of you have heard of Jayson Blair and what
his violations of trust did to journalism and to The New
York Times. Unfortunately, he is not alone.
he resigned from The Times almost a year ago, 10
other journalists have been forced to leave newspapers because
of problems related to fabricating or plagiarizing. Only recently,
Jack Kelley, a star reporter at USA Today resigned
after charges that he committed similar violations.
I go, editors and reporters, academics and writers, are eager
to talk about what can be done. So here's how I believe that
journalism can and must get better.
me talk first about leadership.
the past few months, I have come to believe that the greatest
benefit that can come out of these scandals is the opportunity
it gives us to really focus on what it means to lead in the
modern news organization.
this, I mean the need for systematic leadership development
and assessment to be built into the very fiber of our news
every successful major corporation spends a significant amount
of time, energy and money developing its leaders -- both its
current leaders and its future ones.
aspiring to be leaders in journalism need roadmaps on how
to engage readers more effectively and how to explain better
that we are different from the other sources of information
masquerading as news. They need to understand how to stand
steadfast to our core values at a time when pressures are
pushing us in other directions.
me describe what I mean. Recently, John Carroll, the editor
of the Los Angles Times, wrote a story describing the paper's
decision to publish its investigation into the groping allegations
involving Arnold Schwarzenegger before the gubernatorial election.
is that important?
Carroll understood that - at a time when readers don't know
how decisions get made and when critics misrepresent the journalistic
process - a leader must pull back the curtain and show how
journalism is practiced. In doing so, he provided a rare peak
inside the decision making process at the L.A. Times, something
that I welcome.
editors are reaching out to readers in a similar fashion.
Recently when the Washington Post decided to clamp down on
the use of anonymous sources, the editor, Len Downie, wrote
an article explaining the decision.
the kind of leadership we need today.
need to explain ourselves more often and better.
need to distinguish more effectively between what we offer
as journalists and the information the public gets from entertainment
shows, talk shows, the Web and other sources that don't share
out core values.
it or not, today we confront an information explosion as a
result of advances in technology. And that development is
nothing short of awesome, as my son Zachary would say.
it's also a two-edged sword. Information moves in minutes
whether right or wrong. Rumors or speculation become fact
and are passed along with or without the cursory denial. I'll
have more on that later.
years ago, a Jayson Blair's fabrication would have been discovered
practically from the beginning. That's because national reporters
were required to leave whereabouts with the hotel they were
staying so they could be reached. Today, we have cell phones,
pagers and e-mails, which makes it easier for someone who
wants to foil the system.
And we must have leadership that appreciates this transformation,
and that knows how to put controls in place that protect us.
my first days in journalism, I have heard how our profession
is a different animal. How great leadership is automatic and
how great reporters or great writers make great leaders.
sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.
the reality is this: Whether we are dealing with micro chips
or what stories to put on page one, we are talking about complicated
decisions where employees need to work together to reach the
smart solution in the face of significant competitive forces.
can no longer ignore this development. The stakes are simply
too high. All the issues that journalists wring their hands
over at annual gathering -- the shrinking audience for serious
journalism, the competition for mind share brought on by the
information explosion, the challenges of concentration of
media ownership in fewer hands -- have combined to make this
a particularly crucial time for journalism.
leads me to my second point, accountability and trust.
believe, with all my heart, that we must become more active
in helping the public know that we work for them and that
what we do is in their interest. That's our public responsibility
and why we have a First Amendment. Sometimes, that seems to
is true not just for my generation, but for those in high
school and college, who I believe are not always clear on
the merits of journalism versus other forms of information.
simply cannot take the view that we can put it out there for
them to take it, as we give it, period.
all honesty, fewer and fewer of them are taking it, and some
of them who are taking it are throwing it back in our faces.
our first days on the job in any newsroom, we learn how to
become skilled in gathering, analyzing, synthesizing and reporting
But clearly we need to do more.
Let's face it, just about all of us now in journalism were
motivated to get into this profession by the thrill of the
chase -- hunting down that great story. The love of the scoop
is intoxicating and yes, still important, vital, and crucial.
But I would argue that some of that time, talent and effort
has to be turned toward issues that provide for the long-term
viability of serious journalism.
Don't get me wrong, I am not some
Chicken Little rushing around screaming that the sky
is falling, the sky is falling.
But I do worry about the future.
I do believe that any forces that tend to work to the detriment
of serious journalism by definition work to the detriment
what am I calling for?
need the establishment and expansion of structures dedicated
to looking deeply and critically into journalism and how it
engages the public. These structures need to focus not only
on how the news is covered, but even more basic questions,
such as why we continue to disconnect with those who we have
given our professional careers to serve.
as it is a central part of the news efforts for leaders to
discuss, debate and give serious attention to issues like
the structure of a story, the length of a story, and the placement
of a story, we must increasingly focus attention on the reasons
for the story and whether those reasons are clear to our readers.
we accompany controversial stories with sidebars revealing
some of the issues related to how the story developed? Should
we make special efforts to explain our decisions, whether
in print or on the airwaves?
And should we do more to anticipate backlash and criticism
and try harder to explain ourselves? Should the Web be used,
for instance, to generate more dialogue with the public
about issues raised on the air or in the paper?
kind of questions and concerns are not just interesting academic
exercises for J-schools and conventions. They are everyday
situations that must be tackled in a way that is meaningful,
yet that does nothing to compromise the journalistic mission.
cannot overemphasize the importance or the potential difficulty
infusing these kinds of practices into the daily work of professional
it might be, but do it we must.
all, journalism is a profession and like any profession --
law, medicine, education -- it must evolve with society --
constantly impacting and being impacted by society.
leads me to my final point, diversity.
don't believe for a second that journalism can be as rich,
smart or relevant as it needs to be without diversity.
diversity becomes crucial because the world of journalism
today is one of sameness. We attend the same colleges, live in the
same neighborhoods, eat at the same restaurants and send our
children to the same schools.
is nothing wrong with that, but it should worry all of us.
How do we begin to understand the hopes and dreams,
the pressures and the problems of those who don't live in
the end, our role as journalists in the world of today has
to be two-fold: To go as broad as possible and as deep as possible. That assures
can't tell you the number of young journalists, particularly
young journalists of color who have come to me wonder if they
have future in journalism after the Jayson Blair episode?
Will they be trusted, will they be given opportunities, or
will anyone care about their future? To be honest, such questions
just rip my heart out.
Jayson Blair scandal also indicates
that race relations in the newsroom and society in
general still has a long, long way to go.
do I say that?
can't tell you how proud I was to be the managing editor of
The New York Times, the venerable, erudite and progressive
New York Times. Few newspapers in the country, for
instance, could have published the ground breaking, Pulitzer
Prize winning series, "How Race is Lived in America."
know that The Times is genuinely committed to basic
tenets like fairness, justice and diversity -- probably more
than just about any other major news organization.
when Blair's fraud came to light, the central feature in many
people's mind was the issue of race. Despite all of the accomplishments
of my career, despite the obvious troubles he had, some people
could not see past the fact that Jayson and I happened to
share pigmentation. They assumed I was his mentor and have
given him breaks.
do have a long, long way to go in terms of race relations.
what's new about that:
Everyone always says "We have a long way to go:
The question is when do we leave and how do we make
would offer a relatively simple proposal: That each of us
commit ourselves individually to taking personal responsibility
for making progress in our direct sphere of influence.
that, I mean that we need to find ways to monitor the progress
that we as professions are making in our businesses and communities
to create cohesive environments that bring people together
across boundaries of race. This is not just the moral and
ethical thing to do, but it is absolutely a must if we are
to preserve, protect, and promote the future of this cherished
institution we call journalism.
I conclude, let me make another point that I think is important.
live in a day and age in which one person's perception of
fact can appear in print without any fact checking or without
any attempt to determine the truth. And whether this information
is manufactured or misleading, whether it is personally harmful
or professionally damaging, it finds its way into the market
place to be circulated over and over and over.
is a powerful force.
And as journalists, you must always be aware of what
that power means and how it affects people's lives.
power is one that I have always, as a journalist, tried to
use wisely. I have had to learn this personally the hard way,
when the tables turned and I became part of the story, rather
than the person writing or editing the story.
story I am part of, of course, is the aftermath of the Blair
scandal. Last week there was yet another installment in this
story -- an article written in the May Atlantic Monthly
magazine by Howell Raines, the former executive editor.
first reaction to the piece was that I would not respond to
it in any way. But I realize that in the interest of truth,
there were a few points that need to be made.
my former colleague and friend of many years, offered his
personal assessment of many things in the piece. I do not
agree with many of his characterizations, including his unfair
attack on the staff of The Times.
the past year , my former colleagues at The Times
have been on a roller coaster, where their professionalism
has been attacked and maligned. This has to stop.
my case, Howell alleges that I was aware of the now infamous
memo from Blair's supervisor, saying that Blair should be
stopped from writing for The Times. As I made clear
in my discussions with the Siegal Committee, the panel that
reviewed his career at The Times, I was not. I first
learned of the memo at the same time that Howell learned of
it. That fact
- that this memo went to lower level editors and was not circulated
to higher ups - has already been clearly established by
the Siegal Committee and should not be in dispute.
is this fact: The day after the supervisor sent the
memo, Blair was
reprimanded and warned by letter that he could lose his job
unless his performance improved, a
course of action that I was made aware of and that
this supervisor approved.
truth is that in the end, it came down to this: we
were managing the wrong problem. We thought we were managing
a young, green reporter, who was erratic but had enormous
potential. That's something that can be managed. Instead,
we learned to late that we managing a reporter who did not
share in the values, we all cherish as journalists.
me correct one other misperception. For months, I read one
publication after another declaring me to be Jayson Blair's
mentor, even though that fact couldn't be further from the
truth. If it had been, I would have acknowledged it, but it
was not true. That was based on something that appeared in
Newsweek, which I told them was untrue and was never
Newsweek writer said the report was based on what
Blair told people. I found it shocking, and I still find it
shocking, that this was reported without further checking,
when they already knew that they were dealing with an admitted
liar. They took his word for it and in doing so, added another
complicated layer to a story that was already hurting a lot
of people personally and professionally.
I speak to you today,
I don't pretend to have all the answers. I don't even
pretend to know all of the questions.
I know that truth matters. It's our currency and the foundation
of our profession.
I know that at this critical time for the
press, we must be proactive. And we must
head into the future with a determination that our
journalism is the best we can produce. And if it gets broken,
we must do work as hard as we can to fix it.
why I am here to day.
you. I'll be glad to take questions.