Nick Lemann is the Dean of the Columbia University School of Journalism and a former New Yorker staff writer. While at Harvard – where he graduated in 1976 – Lemann served as President of the Crimson. He has worked as a reporter and editor at The Washington Monthly, Texas Monthly, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Post, focusing primarily on national affairs.
Lemann is the author of The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America, The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy, about the SAT, and most recently, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, about the failure of Reconstruction. At Columbia, where he was hired as Dean of the Journalism School in 2003, Lemann implemented a two-year curriculum and has focused on teaching alternative journalistic mediums in the Internet age.
Nicholas Lemann: Well first of all, you know, every younger generation faces challenges. And one of the advantages of learning history is it gets you over the temptation to be ahistorical and think . . . You know when I entered journalism at a salaried level, it was considered an existential crisis time in journalism. Now it’s considered an existential crisis time in journalism. What’s going on now is you have a . . . I mean the big thing that’s going on . . . Probably the biggest thing that’s going on is the advent of the Internet, which is as a delivery system for journalism. As a delivery system for journalism, the most important thing to come along since television. And that has, you know . . . It’s a challenge for us at the school, and it’s a huge part of the life of what we do and what our graduates will do after they graduate. Partly because of the Internet there’s two other things going on, which is one, a change in the economic model for reporters who work for salaries, which is evolving in ways that we can’t be sure of, but it’s evolving. And then the second is an effacement of borders. It used to be that most journalism was pretty local really, and journalism took place within community. And that’s less and less true. It’s . . . American journalism is more national, certainly on the Web, and it’s also more international.
Recorded on: 11/30/07