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: First of all a lot of these things it was effervesce. If you go to the . . . I don’t know who took the picture, but you know if you go to the Library of Congress web site, Thomas, which is very good, or LOC.gov, and there’s a site within that called American Memory that has these huge photo archives. And there’s all these wonderful pictures in there from the 1930s, the Depression era, of newsstands. And if you look at these pictures, you will see it’s 90 percent, or maybe 98 percent celebrity gossip and sensational crime. That’s kind of what people are interested in. There was never a time when there was a mass audience for journalism whose primary interest was sort of sober-sided public affairs reporting. So I just think it’s human nature, and you could say it’s the sort of democratic and classless nature of American society. Except if you go to class-ridden UK, the same very intense interest exists there.
Recorded on: 11/30/07