Journalism

            Be a scribe! Your body will be sleek, your hand will be soft. You are one who sits grandly in your house; your servants answer speedily; beer is poured copiously; all who see you rejoice in good cheer. Happy is the heart of him who writes; he is young each day.

Ptahhotep, thought to be first recorded author, about 2400 BC

 

            You can never know how a life in journalism will turn out.  Decide that you want to be a scholar, a lawyer, or a doctor…and your path to the grave is pretty well laid out before you.  Decide that you want to enter our rather less reputable line of work and you set off on a route that can sometimes seem to be nothing but diversions, switchbacks and a life of surprises…with the constant temptation to keep reinventing yourself.

Joseph Lelyveld, quoted by Bill Moyers, Sept. 11, 2004

 

            That awful power, the public opinion of this nation, is formed and molded by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoe-making and fetched up journalism on their way to the poorhouse.

Mark Twain, 1873

 

            Television can teach.  It can illuminate.  Yes, it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends.  Otherwise, it is merely lights and wires in a box.

Edward R. Murrow, keynote speech to RTNDA convention, October 15, 1958

 

            We deal in illusions, man. None of it is true. But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds. We’re all you know. You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here. You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and that your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube. You eat like the tube. You even think like the tube. In God’s name, you people are the real thing, WE are the illusion.

“Howard Beale,” Paddy Chayefsky, Network, 1976

 

            The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Finley Peter Dunne, 1930

 

            Journalism is the last refuge of the vaguely talented.

Walter Lippmann

 

            The role of the press is to inform society about problems, not to solve them.

Reuven Frank, 1971

 

            The duty of a responsible press is to discover, verify and report facts about the management or mismanagement of public business.

Martha Gellhorn, The New Republic, June 27, 1994

 

            The hunt for humbugs is one of the most basic purposes of journalism, the quintessentially paranoid profession.  The hunt must go on.

Bill Emmott, “20:21 Vision,” 2003

 

            The committee is the enemy of eloquence.

Anna Quindlen, Newsweek, January 19, 2009

 

            Jargon allows us to camouflage intellectual poverty with verbal extravagance.

David Pratt, foreign editor for the Sunday Herald

 

            When bias becomes the central focus of any news organization, truth loses out.  Truth cannot co-exist with bias and the public is never served by any operation that delivers news from a singular, pre-determined point of view.

Doug Thompson, Capitol Hill Blue, July 5, 2007

 

            There is much to be said in favor of modern journalism.  By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, it keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.  By carefully chronicling the current events of contemporary life, it shows of what very little importance such events really are.  By invariably discussing the unnecessary, it makes us understand what things are necessary for culture, and what are not.

Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist, pt. 2, Intentions, 1891

 

            Flattering, cajoling, and generally pleasing the public have replaced keeping the public informed and engaged in the political process as primary goals of the news business.

Marie Gottschalk, World Policy Journal, Summer 1992

 

            Editorial balance and objectivity are requirements, but the system should be flexible enough to require them over a period of time, rather than within every individual program.  Otherwise there is no way in which public television can be anything except bland, unexciting, undemanding, and unintelligent–all of the things it was designed not to be.

Twentieth Century Fund Task Force on Public Television, July 1993

 

            Imitation is the sincerest form of television.

Fred Allen

 

            People in television news take a lot of heat, and deservedly so. Much of TV news, especially the local product, is a melodramatic grotesquerie—a repetitive, hyperbolic opera of bloody crime, kidnapped towheads, breathless public-health warnings, shameless self-promotion. There’s frustratingly little depth or sense of proportion. Before Sept. 11, the big TV-news story was a surge of sharks rampaging around the American coast. It was a classic TV-news story—good film, wide appeal, compelling, scary.  A chase.  Of course, it wasn’t exactly true, either.

Andrew Sarris, New York Observer, September 16, 2002

 

            It’s that kind of media universe, as TV’s presentation of news makes it ever harder to separate the essential from the clutter, the significant from the silly, the momentous from the ordinary…Instead of showing us architects of history, TV encourages carpenters with fast hammers. The result is quickened pulses, impatience as a society that is incompatible with historical perspective.

Howard Rosenberg, Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2003

 

            At present, the true struggle for the soul of American television news is not over ideology, but between substance and schlock, between facts and frivolousness.

Josh Gerstein, New York Sun, August 9, 2005

                           

            The key for David [Brinkley] is less is more on television and to understand that you’re not writing captions.  People can see the pictures for themselves; what you want to do is expand their understanding of what they’re seeing.

Tom Brokaw, quoted in Los Angeles Times, June 13, 2003, Brinkley obituary

 

            Our legacy is that a serious news broadcast can be successful on all counts, without catering to anyone’s baser instincts. Nightline has made a lot of money. It has been successful in terms of viewership, awards and accolades. But most important to me, it’s been successful in not ever having to lower its standards.

Ted Koppel, quoted by the AP, Nov. 22, 2005

 

            [USA Today’s decision to have Ann Coulter cover the Democratic National Convention and Michael Moore the RNC] is casting, not editing.  It is an extension of the noxious talk radio ethos that confuses a provocation with an idea and abuse with entertainment.  It makes a mockery of the fundamental journalistic standard of balance, because pitting two utterly predictable writers with a demonstrable disrespect for the truth is not a debate, it’s mud wrestling.

Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times, July 28, 2004

 

            …I’m aware of not just the blatant betrayals of public interest by the likes of [Jayson] Blair and [Stephen] Glass but the more systemic, more damaging betrayals represented by what I’ve come to think of as the four horsemen of the journalistic apocalypse: superficiality, sensationalism, preoccupation with celebrity, and obsession with the bottom line.

David Shaw, Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2003

 

            Reporters are good tools to tell the story the government wants to tell.  But beyond that, the government views reporters as impertinent, unwieldy and unwelcome.

Carol Marin in the Chicago Tribune, May 27, 2004, referring to the Bush Administration

 

            The press has a preferred position in our constitutional scheme, not to enable it to make money, not to set newsmen apart as a favored class, but to bring to fulfillment the public’s right to know.

William O. Douglas, dissenting opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes, 1972

 

            If I had my choice I would kill every reporter in the world, but I am sure we would be getting reports from Hell before breakfast.

William T. Sherman

 

            I think the decline [in TV news anchors] is from a group of people whose pose was, “We know more about the world than you do because we can always put on our safari jacket, jump on a jet, 10 hours later get off at a trouble spot, ask four members of the crew, ‘What’s the mood here?’ and then do a live standup about it” — to a world in which a guy does the same thing but now the pose is not that he knows more than you but that he feels more than you. It’s the Oprahfication of the news.

Harry Shearer, Seattle Times interview, April 13, 2006

 

            The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen, or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous, flaming ant epidemic.

Jon Stewart, Rally to Restore Sanity, October 30, 2010

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