Katrina vanden Heuvel on Modern Journalism

Question: Where is journalism today?

vanden Heuvel:    I think that there is a crisis of journalism, but out of that crisis comes some hard thinking about the future of journalism which may be very positive.  I sit and work in a magazine which has always believed in the importance of deep reporting, of engaging citizens, of informing citizens as the ground stone of participatory democracy, and I think, I know that at The Nation, where 15 years ago we did a series called the National Entertainment State which looked at the 6 big corporations controlling our medium and what that meant in terms of not only blurring, but I would say, today, obliterating the line between news and entertainment, that we were in trouble.  This was 6 years ago…  I mean, 15 years ago.  Now, we face new crises.  Newspapers are collapsing.  We need to find alternative models of ownership, and that’s something The Nation is interested in pursuing.  I’m not a believer that the internet is going to set us free, but I am a believer that we’re going to see new models on the internet and that younger readers, consumers of news, in the best sense of that term, are going to the internet to find what they want to read.  I hope that in this next period that we’re going to see new models on the internet, where you have some deep investigative reporting which is crucial for any democracy and where we rebuild the reporting on the world, because after 9/11 it seemed to me that America needed to reengage with a world it didn’t know, but instead fear became the way we reengaged.  Today, I hope there is a way we can rebuild journalism to cover the world and to investigate abuses, corruption, something The Nation’s been doing for 143 years.  So, I’m hopeful that out of crisis can come real change.

Question: What are some alternative models for ownership?

vanden Heuvel:    In this country, there is the Poynter Journalism Center I believe it’s called, and Florida has supported the St. Petersburg Times.  It’s a community foundation that supports the paper.  In Wisconsin, the Cap Times has been supported again by a family foundation.  ProPublica, a new online organization, is foundation supported and has brought on some of the best investigative journalists who have left newspapers, and they are doing some important investigative reporting, distributing it through the internet.  The Nation, for example, has been for profit for 143 years, though losing money for about 140 of those, and we build a community of supporters into the magazine and then have a fund for investigative journalism through a non-profit which supports us and other journalists.  In Britain, the Guardian newspaper, terrific paper, has a very complicated endowment structure.  So, it’s going to require looking at these structures and seeing how they apply to the US model.  One last point in, I believe it’s in Boulder, Colorado, and in a few cities around this country, papers are folding, but they’re going online, and they’re seeking support from readers and from the community, which they turn to the community and say, if you want to learn about your community, if you want to know what’s going on, help support us.  So, it’s community support that may also fill in what’s been missing.  And as corporations, and the big corporations we wrote about 15 years ago are all in big trouble because of the economic financial crisis, as that kind of funding dissipates, and we see layoffs everyday, the crisis will ratchet up the need to find these alternatives, which are a model, a kind of hybrid of non-profit foundation community reader support.

Question: How would you advise aspiring journalists?     

vanden Heuvel:    I’d suggest that first of all they school themselves deeply in some of the great models of journalism over the years, whether it’s I.F. Stone, the great radical, independent journalist who founded his own weekly in Washington because no one would hire him, though he was The Nation’s Washington correspondent for a period.  So, he was the first kind of print independent, form-your-own, found-your-own, but school yourself in the models of journalism which have advanced this country.  I would suggest to some student, if they have a deep interest in, for example foreign affairs or science, technology, you know, deepen that knowledge so you become an expert, and that is a calling card.  And then multimedia skills, learn hot to write well, but learn how to write well for print, for the internet, learn how to use video, learn how to write for radio, so that you have a set of tools that can take you into the new media world, but never lose that basic schooling in the history of journalism and the best practitioners of investigative reporting, of political reporting.

Katrina vanden Heuvel explains where she sees reporting today.

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