Does Ed Murrow still matter?

A symposium in Pullman tries to match up Murrow's legacy with contemporary news media. It gets complicated fast.
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Edward R. Murrow

A symposium in Pullman tries to match up Murrow's legacy with contemporary news media. It gets complicated fast.

'ꀜWould Murrow have tweeted?'ꀝ That question from a member of the audience at the Edward R. Murrow Symposium'ꀙs evening event drew a big laugh from the large crowd in Pullman. The panelists — Deborah Amos of NPR, Robin Fields of ProPublica, and Judy Woodruff of PBS — weren'ꀙt sure how to answer it. None admitted to being active on Twitter.

Lawrence Pintak, founding dean of WSU's Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, had opened the 36th annual Murrow Symposium on April 20 with this question: 'ꀜHow does Murrow'ꀙs legacy fit into the new media landscape?'ꀝ In between, there were many hours of panels, workshops, networking, chatting, and debating about the chaotic and uncertain future of what used to be called the 'ꀜnews biz.'ꀝ

Murrow, had he been there, likely would have been bemused by the constant references to his high standards of ethics and responsibility — and confused by the staggering array of new technologies now being used to report the news.

Sessions on 'ꀜHow Social Media is Transforming the Communication Landscape,'ꀝ 'ꀜThe Converged Journalist: Reporter, Videographer, Web Jockey,'ꀝ 'ꀜViral PR,'ꀝ 'ꀜThe Digital Future of Public Broadcasting,'ꀝ 'ꀜNewspapers in a Digital World,'ꀝ and 'ꀜCreate Your Own Internet Radio Station'ꀝ might have made Murrow wish he were back in London during the Blitz. 'ꀜWe are bombarded by an endless cacophony of news and information,'ꀝ said Pintak, a former CBS reporter in the Middle East. 'ꀜIt'ꀙs more and more difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. What does it all mean? Damned if I know!'ꀝ

Some of the panelists took a crack at answering. Kathy Best, The Seattle Times'ꀙ online editor, said new technologies allow journalists to reach far more people much more quickly. 'ꀜWe need to take advantage of this huge stream of information that'ꀙs out there,'ꀝ she said. Her paper did that in its coverage of the Maurice Clemmons case that won the newspaper a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for local reporting this month. In a later workshop, she added: 'ꀜIt was news to the fourth power,'ꀝ meaning the paper did breaking news online, enterprise reporting, and added a new level of 'ꀜcommunity conversation'ꀝ in covering the story.

'ꀜIt'ꀙs a matter of adapting to these different platforms,'ꀝ said Lauren McCullough, who heads the online team at Associated Press, which is increasingly using social-networking tools in news gathering and online discussions. 'ꀜWe'ꀙre really committed to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.'ꀝ

'ꀜThere are some really smart people out there,'ꀝ added Best. 'ꀜWe need to be transparent about the information and where it'ꀙs coming from.'ꀝ 'ꀜBlogging is just a medium,'ꀝ noted McCullough. 'ꀜYou can be uninformed and opinionated and just rant — or you can use it as a tool like AP does.'ꀝ

Best noted that as mainstream news organizations have lost staff and resources, they have partnered with local bloggers and hyperlocal neighborhood news sites. The Times now has about 27 such sites in a community partnership, sharing stories and, they hope, advertising revenue at some point. 'ꀜIt has allowed us to cover neighborhoods we never could cover before,'ꀝ Best said.

She added that her paper 'ꀜonly partners with local bloggers who share our journalistic values,'ꀝ noting that 'ꀜtook a different approach: All bloggers are welcome.'ꀝ At The Times, she said, 'ꀜWe monitor what the bloggers write; we don'ꀙt try to tell them what to do.'ꀝ

Panelist Jeff Lanctot, managing director at Microsoft Advertising, said that people today are 'ꀜfiguring out who we can trust. We'ꀙre shifting to a new stage. In the end, we'ꀙll find that quality content is still king. We'ꀙll have trusted sources again, and it won'ꀙt be 'ꀘcome one, come all.'ꀙ'ꀝ

Others were less sanguine: 'ꀜThe Internet has changed everything,'ꀝ said Peter Bhatia, editor of The Oregonian. 'ꀜIt'ꀙs turned our world upside down.'ꀝ The online transformation allows wider reach and greater depth, but has severely reduced advertising revenues at most mainstream news organizations.

'ꀜThe news industry is going through a painful revolution,'ꀝ Pintak said, pledging that at the Murrow College, 'ꀜWe will teach our students the basics of ethics and responsibility.'ꀝ To that, Edward R. Murrow might say: Good night and good luck.

This article, reported from Pullman, first appeared on the blog of the Washington News Council.


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