Alan Weisman: What's ailing journalism?

Alan Weisman's reports from around the world have appeared in Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Orion, Wilson Quarterly, Vanity Fair, Mother Jones, Discover, Audubon, Condé Nast Traveler, and in many anthologies, including Best American Science Writing 2006.  His most recent book, The World Without Us, a bestseller translated into 30 languages, was named the Best Nonfiction Book of 2007 by both Time Magazine and Entertainment Weekly, the #1 Nonfiction Audiobook of 2007 by iTunes; a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction, for the Orion Prize, and a Book Sense 2008 Honor Book.

His previous books include An Echo In My Blood; Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World (10th anniversary edition available from Chelsea Green); and La Frontera: The United States Border With Mexico. He has also written the introduction for The World We Have by Thich Nhat Hanh, available this fall from Parallax Press.  A senior producer for Homelands Productions, Weisman’s documentaries have aired on National Public Radio, Public Radio International, and American Public Media.  Each spring, he leads an annual field program in international journalism at the University of Arizona, where he is Laureate Associate Professor in Journalism and Latin American Studies.  He and his wife, sculptor Beckie Kravetz, live in western Massachusetts.

  • Transcript


Question: What is the state of journalism today?

Alan Weisman: Journalism is in the critical state these days. It started over a decade ago with newspapers being absorbed by corporations. They used to be family-run or journalist-run and then they became line-items in corporations who, as they further consolidated, treated these thing as items that either were bringing profits or bringing loses. To the economize they start to cutting back on staff, particularly say when one corporation ends up owning several media outlets, like they almost like Los Angles Times and The Chicago Tribune or they own a bunch of TV stations and some executive who knows nothing about journalism, begins to say, “How come we need all these different correspondents out there, that’s just redundancy, let’s cut down on that.” Well as a result of that, we lost a lot of coverage in the world, and then, to make the matters worse, a very useful and potentially wonderful medium called the Internet showed up, and people started reading their news much more so on the Internet. I read my news on the Internet, because I travel so much. And the average age of a person, picking up a newspaper is over 55 now in the United States. Well, the problem is it those newspapers, who have always had reporters out there. So, when you read the news digested by Google or digested by Yahoo. They’re just getting their content from a whole lot of other places, but those whole lot of other places are going broke, because the advertisers are all going in to Google and Yahoo. The Google and Yahoo do not send correspondents in the field, I assure you. I recently spoke at Microsoft and I had this discussion with them, suggesting that these big media companies, big internet companies that now are controlling information, if they really care about the fate of the globe that they are serving, they are going to somehow enter in a profit-sharing arrangement with newspapers or with local TV or radio, to help us get the number of correspondents we need out there to let us know what is going on.