27 August 2012 Comments Off

Some birthday musings

Another birthday. Another year. Another opportunity to reflect on a career in journalism.

At the risk of self-indulgence (OK, this is self-indulgent), some high points and a low point.

Let’s get the low point out of the way.

  • Being a working journalist has essentially been one big high for me and regrets are mainly trivial. There’s really only one that keeps me awake at night: In 2003, when I was editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com, not recognizing early on and then not being able to effectively counter the media cheerleading for the Iraq War. Like many American journalists at the time, I couldn’t find my professional skepticism when I needed it.

High points:

  •  Tom Glocer, former CEO of Reuters, often spoke eloquently about how the world would be a poorer place without the international news organization he headed–and he was right. At this time of extreme polarization –particularly in the United States–a news organization with a global perspective that prides itself on the pursuit of truth (not just facts), independence and freedom from bias has never been more needed. As ethics and standards editor, I was particularly happy to be able to make freely available to the public the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, the principles and practices Reuters journalists live by. I’m forever grateful to David Schlesinger, former Reuters editor-in-chief, and Chris Ahearn, former president of the Reuters Media Division, for bringing me into this organization, which is so much more than “the wire.”
  • And speaking of “the wires,” working as a desk supervisor for the Associated Press Washington Bureau in the early ’90s was a lesson in how news really was covered. In this age of social media, where anyone with an Internet connection can be a publisher and where no story, however granular, goes unpublished, it seems quaint to recall a time when, if the AP or Reuters didn’t cover an event you wouldn’t hear about it. It was fine for national newspapers or broadcasters to “have a take” on a story or cover it “across the grain,” but “the wires” provided the grain.
  • I joined the digital age in 1996, when I joined MSNBC.com as a producer. At the time, I didn’t really know what a producer did, but a strange band of journalists who could occasionally think like software developers and software developers who knew how to enable journalists came together in Redmond, Washington, and changed journalism forever.
  • Now that I’m working for myself, it’s a pleasure to have time to get to know the next generation of journalists. As I’ve spoken  to university classes of aspiring journalists, it’s been clear that the future of the profession will be in some good hands. They are better educated than ever and have the most powerful news gathering and news distribution tools in history. But most importantly, they see journalism as a calling, a vocation, a mission. They are skeptical but not cynical, idealistic but not naive. If they could just remember to put the punctuation inside the quotation marks.
Enough. It’s time to enjoy the rest of this eventful summer.



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