Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we always play defense for 48 minutes.
Last week, my wife and I had the incredible honor and privilege of meeting Tom Brokaw at the annual Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Page One Awards banquet. This is always a wonderful event to attend, because I get to see lots of great friends and help honor the truly great journalism that is practiced every year in Minnesota. But this year, Minnesota SPJ really outdid itself by securing Brokaw to be the keynote speaker.
His speech centered on the dire situation the journalism industry finds itself in today, and what everyone from rank and file reporters to news executives to the general public can do to improve it. I'm sure that you, like me, have heard many people speak on this topic, but I've never heard it done like Brokaw did it.
He didn't mince words. When he talked about why the industry fell into the rut it's in, he said (summarizing): We're forgetting as a society that information isn't free.
In a short, simple sentence, there it is. All of it. Think about it for a minute.
With the Internet, it has never been easier or cheaper to read the news. The number of people in America who do not pay for their news is increasing daily - and, in particular, the youngest Americans have never known what it's like to pay for their news...they've never had to do it before. Of course, this is troubling because it takes serious financial and human resources to do journalism well. It just does. There are so many blogs and "news sites" out there, but how many of them are actually breaking real news? How many of them allocate and invest the resources it takes to do the legwork to report real, accurate, relevant stories - ones which truly make an impact on the way we live our lives, or the way our elected leaders govern, or protect the public? It's a small percentage, to be sure. Most blogs simply aggregate news from other sources, and put their own unique spin on that news. And let's be honest with ourselves and admit that most of the "news" we read on a daily basis is pop culture on a stick, whether it's sports, entertainment, etc.
Of course, we NEED trained journalists and journalism organizations to produce this kind of real, hard news, because it's incredibly important to our way of life. Journalism, after all, is the "Fourth Estate" of government; our founding fathers realized right away that an informed public was the single most important aspect of a democratic society. Why do you think they wrote the First Amendment? Freedom of speech, and the press, and assembly, etc.? Journalism has forever been regarded as a fourth branch, right up there with the executive, judicial and legislative branches...it places checks and balances on the other three, and ensures that the people have the knowledge they need to live their lives and ably elect their leaders. Imagine, for just a minute, what our society would be like if journalism wasn't done, or done well. It's not much of a stretch to say that it would be completely different...there may not even be an America to speak of.
So it is paramount to our future to understand that information isn't free, and that we need to act to invest in it and educate each other about this. Maybe if people have a true appreciation for what's at stake here, they'll be more apt to pick up a paper from the newsstand, or click through on a banner advertisement. At the same time, news executives need to take bold action soon to advance this agenda in the public discourse. Sure, it's self-serving - it's about journalism entities making enough money to survive. But it's also about ensuring that American democracy as we know it can function into the future. If they don't take up the cause, no one will.
To me, Brokaw's statement was sheer brilliance, a masterpiece of wordsmithing that could only be done by one of the greatest journalists of all time. I've literally spent hours reflecting on this since I heard his speech, and I hope you'll give this some thought as well.
What a night it was. Sure, it was an unforgettable because of the opportunity to sit down with Brokaw at the same dinner table and have a once-in-a-lifetime conversation. But I still can't believe how lucky we all were to hear honest reflection on the journalism industry from one of the greatest to ever practice the craft. If you'd like to experience the thrill for yourself, I'd encourage you to visit the Minnesota SPJ Web site at http://www.mnspj.org/ and watch the video of his keynote speech.
This Memorial Day Weekend, as we remember and honor our veterans for all they've done for us, let's not forget that they sacrificed as much to preserve our way of life as anything else. It's our time now to step up to the plate and do our part...I see this is one important way we can do just that.
That's all for now. I'm out like the Boston Celtics.