The need for strong journalism as important as ever, PBS’ Jim Lehrer says

Journalism is undergoing a “revolution,” said one of my heroes, Jim Lehrer, executive director and anchor of the PBS Newshour.

Lehrer was in Atlanta today at the Commerce Club as part of the Atlanta Press Club’s Newsmaker series.

“Newspapers are folding, failing and shrinking,” Lehrer said. “I noticed it today arriving in Atlanta.”

The internet and web-based forms of communication have “hurt” the livelihood of the traditional journalist.

It’s not all bad, Lehrer said.

“There’s more information out there that’s more accessible than it’s ever been,” Lehrer said, adding that the newspaper morgues and the longtime copy editors who were encyclopedias of information are gone forever.

In Lehrer’s mind, newspapers were wrong in embracing the internet by giving away all their content. “It devalued reporting. It devalued good serious journalism,” he said. “And it destroyed the fundamental financial base — classified advertising.”

As a result of less revenue, newspapers have had to cut staff and expenses. “They are beginning to lose the unique qualities that caused people to buy newspapers in the first place,” he said.

Lehrer then harked back to one of our country’s founders — Thomas Jefferson — who believed that for our democratic society to work, it needs an informed electorate. And it has been journalists and reporters who have kept the public informed.

“The need for us is as strong as it’s ever been,” Lehrer said. “It’s all about content.”

And he urged journalists “who were in this business to stay in the business.”

Lehrer did say that the Newshour is having to adjust to the new world of journalism.

“We are going to make a big announcement next week,” he said. “We are going to take a position that the Newshour is more than just an appointed news hour.” In other words, the Newshour will be looking at new ways to dessiminate information and put more on the internet.

“What we do is needed,” Lehrer said. “We are going to try to be part of the solution and make our program more accessible.”

Lehrer also challenged journalists to do a better job of letting the public know the importance of the role they play in a democratic society.

“We have to sell our need (in society) better than we have,” Lehrer said, adding that some communities are exploring nonprofit models for journalism and news through all media including the internet, television newspapers and radio. But he said it was vital that these new nonprofit news organization be transparent and independent..

The demise of newspapers will ripple to other news organizations as well, he said. A couple of weeks ago, Lehrer was in Boston meeting with the public televison station — WGBH.

In his conversation with them, Lehrer said: “WGBH wondered what they would do if the Boston Globe folded.”


Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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