Jeffrey Toobin on the Future of Media
Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1993 and the senior legal analyst for CNN, is one of the most recognized and admired legal journalists in the country.
His most recent book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, was published in the fall of 2007. The book spent more than four months on the New York Times best-seller list and was named one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times Book Review, Time, Newsweek, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, and the Economist. The Nine also received the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize for Non-fiction and the Silver Gavel Award of the American Bar Association.
Toobin joined CNN in 2002 after six years with ABC News. In 2000, he received an Emmy Award for his coverage of the Elian Gonzalez case. Before joining The New Yorker, Toobin served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Brooklyn, New York. He also served as an associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh, an experience that provided the basis for his first book, Opening Arguments: A Young Lawyer’s First Case: United States v. Oliver North.
Jeffrey Toobin received his B.A. from Harvard College in 1982, and, in 1986, graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. He lives in Manhattan.
Jeffrey Toobin: I guess, the strategy I would impart for using the web is develop a core of websites that you think are useful, and really rely on those rather than starting everyday with the entire World Wide Web and seeing what’s interesting. Because, you know, that’s a great way to waste a day and God knows I’ve done it. But if you sort of order your day, you know, if you have a fixed group that you feel confident, you’ll get a decent grounding in, they will link you to other stuff that’s interesting. But rather than just sort of wandering around in the great digital wilderness, I think it’s better to have 5, 10 websites that you sort of breeze through everyday. And at that point, you can feel like you’re pretty much current. And if you want to explore further, fine, but use the ones that you trust to allow you to do the rest of your job.
Question: Do blogs undermine or enhance the news?
Jeffrey Toobin: No, I don’t… I don’t think so. I mean, I guess, my questions about… my questions about blogging are really more… My questions about blogging are really more economic than journalistic. I think there are a lot of great blogs out there and I certainly read them. The problem in journalism now is how are we going to finance news gathering? How are we going to finance the people who go to Iraq that, who collect the information that bloggers then [comment on]? The New York Times business model, it appears to me, is in a verge of falling apart. And the New York Times has 60 people in Baghdad. We are all dependent on those 60 people to comment on journalism. So, you know, bloggers are great at pointing out the [foilables] of other journalists. They are great at analyzing news, but they are not great at collecting and going out and getting news. And what I am concerned about as a citizen and also as a journalist is that there will be journalistic institutions that have the money to send people to Baghdad, and have the money to pay bloggers for health insurance. You know, I just think the model that says, “People are just so obsessed with the news, they blog from their... in their bathrobes and on their sofas.” You know, there’re going to be eccentric people like that, but I think in order to have an informed citizenry, we have to have journalistic institutions in place whether they’ll be bloggers or newspapers or magazines or television networks that pay for news gathering. And that doesn’t seem like a sure thing to me now and that’s what I’m concerned about.
Question: What is the future of CNN?
Jeffrey Toobin: Well, you know, I think CNN is in a heck of a lot better shape to face the changing technological future than, say, any newspaper I can think of. Because, you know, we do appear to be approaching in a way that I can’t… We do appear to be approaching a moment where the institution of the computer and the institution of the television set are starting to merge together. And, you know, I find that I am watching stuff on my computer much more than I use to live or, you know, close to live. And certainly, management at CNN is encouraging us to view, you know, our content dispersal function as one that, you know, crosses platforms seamlessly. And I think the CNN brand and what makes CNN good is very transferable to the web, and people are working on how to do that. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on how to do that, but I just think it’s not a great leap to see how the CNN, you know, our CNN function will move more or less seamlessly from the web to cable television. Now, I think, the economics are complicated ‘cause, you know, as the cliché goes, you’re trading, you know, Internet dollars for Internet pennies. And, so the advertising model and the subscription model that we have is a heck of a lot more profitable still on regular cable television than it is on the web. But, I think, CNN is well positioned to, you know, work both simultaneously. I think it’s much harder for print.
Question: What’s missing from our media landscape?
Jeffrey Toobin: I, in general, don’t make the mistake of confusing my own journalistic interest with the world’s journalistic interest. At the New Yorker, I like reading the early versions of my colleague’s stories before they run in the magazine because they tend to be longer ‘cause I like long stories. Now, every survey you see out there says people want shorter stories. So fine, I just, you know, I don’t feel like I’m obligated to agree with everyone else out there, I like reading long magazine articles. And I think it’s great that there is one magazine, essentially the New Yorker that does this on a regular and sustained basis. And fortunately, there seem to be a substantial number of readers out there who are willing to pay for it. But, so what do I think is missing? Let me… You know, I guess, what I think is missing is more in-depth journalism, you know, more long form examination of people and issues. You know, everybody’s trying to come up with, you know, the website that gets you the most information in the shortest period of time. And I understand that that’s a valuable thing. I think there are a lot of people trying to do the same thing. I wish there were a lot of people trying to write 8,000 words stories. It doesn’t appear to be a lot of demand for it but I demand it.
Jeffrey Toobin blogging, The New Yorker and CNN.
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