Media legends Alex S. Jones, John Seigenthaler Sr. ...
Attendees of the Don R. Elliott Distinguished Presidential Lecture dinner Wednesday night had the chance to hear two of journalism’s most ardent defenders share their thoughts on where the medium is headed.
Former New York Times reporter Alex S. Jones, the evening’s keynote speaker, and former Tennessean publisher John Seigenthaler Sr. joined together in a conversation, discussing the digital age of journalism and the place of traditional morals in the new, virtual frontier.
The director of the Shorenstien Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Jones shared his thoughts on the shift to speedy publishing in the digital world of journalism, transitioning from a time, as Jones said, where accuracy lorded over the hope to be first to press, and balance was always over edge.
He looked back on a time where journalism was regarded by many to be a public service, rooted in ethical practice. Jones noted a publisher’s view of their product being a social responsibility.
Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Jones believes the internet age is making a gradual change into placing reader enjoyment at the top of the list of importance.
“Now, I believe the core value of the digital world is that you have to be entertaining,” Jones said. “You have to be quick. You have to be entertaining, and you have to grab people quickly, and if only for a short time.”
Jones and Seigenthaler also discussed the world of Wikipedia, with Seigenthaler recounting his notorious experience to rid false claims on his own Wikipedia page and the events that followed, including meetings with site founder Jimmy Wales.
Seigenthaler has talked on a number of occasions with Wales since the incident, and the current chairman emeritus of The Tennessean and head of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt says that Wales’ achievement and err of caution deserve to be recognized.
“He is a real sense of genius, I think. He has founded something that is vital,” Seigenthaler said. “And, he has tried to control, and has tried to put in blocks.”
Jones believes that Wikipedia has become “an arbiter of truth,” even branching out into the world of journalism.
To Jones, the current changes happening in journalism make this a vital moment for the profession.
“Journalism is a critical part, in my opinion, of where we’re going, but it’s only a part of something that is very big. It’s happening right now, while we’re living through it,” Jones said. “And, it’s a fascinating moment to be in, and that’s really what I want to talk about tonight.”
To Seigenthaler, if the traditions of journalism remain the same, online media, in the eye of the beholder, can hold the same significance and honor.
“We almost say to people who are online what we once said, and still say, about readers and viewers of journalism. In the final analysis, it’s up to you,” Seigenthaler said. “You go where you find information that is credible and accountable, and sources that are reliable. And, if you do that, I think the digital world will be a greater wonderland than it has been.”