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Walt Mossberg is the author and creator of the weekly Personal Technology column in The Wall Street Journal, which has appeared every Thursday since 1991.  With Kara Swisher, he currently[…]

Journalism as we know it is not going away.

Walt Mossberg: So in 1990, by then my designation at the [Wall Street] Journal was National Security Correspondent. And at that time at the paper, what that meant was that you were the person in charge of covering the Cold War, U.S.-Soviet relations, NATO and that sort of stuff.

I had a very good colleague whose title was Diplomatic Correspondent, but he covered more Latin America, Central America, Asia. Obviously we had bureaus on the ground in those places. He covered U.S. policy toward those areas of the world; but I covered U.S.-Soviet, which was the big deal.

Remember this was in the first Bush administration, the first President Bush. And this was the concluding few years of the Cold War – the end of a 50 year struggle against communism; and the collapse of communism; the liberation of Eastern Europe; the reunification of Germany.

And I got to cover all those things, and it was amazing. Obviously we had reporters on the ground in Berlin and Moscow and places who wrote a tremendous amount. But I got to cover the U.S. diplomatic and military end of these things.

I also was involved in covering the Gulf War in 1991 for the Journal on our team – not in the region, but in Washington, in terms of the policy, and the strategy, and the diplomacy, and lining up the coalition and all that stuff.

So I was doing all that, and I was motivated to change what I was doing. And the reason was partly personal and partly journalistic. Personal reason was I was traveling all the time, all over the world on the airplane of the Secretary of State, who was at the time James Baker. And it was phenomenally exciting and a great professional opportunity, but I wasn’t seeing my kids enough. I have two sons who were, at the time, I want to say 12 and 9 or something like that.

And the trips were not within your control. If the Secretary of State decided, or the President decided to send him to go meet with Gorbachev and the King of Saudi Arabia and five other people, they would call and say, “We’re leaving. Are you going to cover this?” And if you didn’t cover it, the newspaper would lose its seat on the airplane. They only had a very limited number of press seats, and the big news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, got a claim to one of those seats. But you would lost it if you didn’t go.

So that meant you couldn’t plan things like being there for the school play, or whatever it is that your kids needed you for.

The other problem was once you left, you didn’t exactly know when you were coming back. They would say, “Oh we’re leaving on Tuesday. We’ll be back on Saturday.” But in fact on Friday, the President might call and say, “I need you to do three more cities,” and so the trip would go on until Monday. 

And again professionally, it was very wonderful and exciting. And I still had the occasional reunion with the people I traveled with. But it was not good for you as a father.

I personally am very much against mixing the editorial pages of newspapers with the news pages; or the editorial views of television networks with the news reporting. But it’s an old tradition to demarcate that this is a column. This is your sports article on the game. This is your sports columnist. And the readers understand that the columnist is an opinion guy, even though he’s not on the editorial page. Or your movie reviewer is an opinion person. You may have a feature article, a news article about the making of some movie, and that’s expected to be objective. The guy that reviews the movie is expected to be subjective.


Recorded on: Sep 13, 2007