GW christened its new Media and Public Affairs building in a two-day celebration with media legends past and present last week.
The gala opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Wednesday night followed by a parade of speakers and panel discussions Thursday, including CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, former CBS radio correspondent Richard C. Hottelet and CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer.
Larry King, who donated $1 million to GW for School of Media and Public Affairs scholarships last year, made a surprise appearance at a ceremony Thursday to commemorate Westwood One Radio Network’s donation of news archives to Gelman Library’s special collections. The reel-to-reel tapes include original recordings of King’s first radio shows.
“That’s why students come to GW,” Freedman said. “Because, unexpectedly, Larry King comes to an event.”
The President’s Millennium Seminar, the last in a series of panel discussions led by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, brought together GW faculty members, including Shapiro fellow and former National Press Corps head Helen Thomas and media professionals.
Trachtenberg said he is pleased with the new facility and he sees it as “a stone in the mosaic” of a constantly changing GW campus.
“I think that the whole program was splendid,” Trachtenberg said. “I thought that the whole format was very thoughtfully put together.”
Mike Freedman, GW vice president of communications, said a lack of student attendance for some speakers dampened the grand opening of GW’s first new academic building in more than 20 years.
“It surprises me when students ask for big-name speakers and then don’t show up,” Freedman said.
Although attendance dipped for some events, GW officials said most were well attended.
SMPA professor Carl Stern, who moderated the final panel discussion on media and democracy, said the building will serve as a center for departments to utilize media and technology.
“It is a work in progress,” he said. “It is surely great to have it. It gives emphasis to the importance of the (MPA building) as a meeting place for many departments.”
Wolf Blitzer delivers keynote address at luncheon
GW students and faculty joined Foggy Bottom residents and media professionals to listen to CNN host Wolf Blitzer reflect on the state of journalism at the grand opening luncheon in the first-floor MPA auditorium.
Blitzer, who served as CNN’s White House correspondent for seven years, compared what he called President George W. Bush’s organized transition to office with former President Bill Clinton’s turbulent start in the White House. Blitzer, who hosts “Wolf Blitzer Reports” and “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer” on CNN, also encouraged students to enter the field of journalism.
“I have had a front-row seat to history,” Blitzer said. “By reporting the news we are performing a civic duty.”
Blitzer called the past century “the bloodiest century in human history,” mentioning the Holocaust, brutal mass killings by the Khmer Rouge and the Hutus and Tutsis in central Africa. With comprehensive worldwide coverage, ignorance is no excuse to allow brutal crimes against humanity to occur, Blitzer said.
“With instant global news coverage there is no excuse for anyone to say that they just didn’t know,” Blitzer said.
After Blitzer’s speech, a student asked him to respond to recently retired CNN correspondent Bernard Shaw’s comment that his rise to fame in journalism was not worth it – something he said at a forum at the National Press Club the night before.
“When all is said and done it has been worth it,” Blitzer said, describing his profession as an “all-consuming job.”
Blitzer said journalists must juggle their priorities and occasionally miss out on family obligations.
Bart Tessler, vice president of Westwood One Radio, presented Freedman with the collection of radio programs before Blitzer’s speech. King, host of CNN’s “Larry King Live,” encouraged students to make use of their college education and take advantage of the building’s resources.
The collection, which will be preserved and digitized for student use, contains classic radio programs such as “The Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger.”
“This collection has full coverage of every major news story in the 20th century,” Tessler said.
CBS correspondent assesses media technology
Noted CBS News correspondent Bob Schieffer said technology plays a large role in shaping news, at a Thursday morning address in the MPA auditorium.
Described by Freedman as the “dean of Washington broadcast journalists,” Schieffer hosts CBS’s Sunday morning talk show “Face the Nation.”
Schieffer, a 30-year veteran of the business, described Americans as the most informed people on earth, but said disadvantages come along with the increased awareness.
“We know anything minutes after it happened, so much information, we are numbed by it and it becomes like elevator music,” Schieffer said. “We have become a less reflective, more impatient society . the challenge to journalists is essentially to break through all the news to actually report the news.”
Schieffer said journalists, amazed by a constant stream of new technology to aid reporting, sometimes allow the technology rather than objectivity to drive the news.
“We often see ourselves seeking the glib rather than the wise,” Schiffer said. “We marvel at technology but sometimes forget about the words that circled the globe for centuries, it was the power of the message, not the technology, that made them so great.”
Schieffer also discussed last year’s election night media errors.
“When we make mistakes, we need to correct them immediately,” he said. “Our viability rests solely on our credibility.”
Freedman said he was surprised few students showed up to hear Schieffer.
“I know Bob (Schieffer) and asked him to come and speak, so it was like a personal favor to me,” he said. “It was discouraging when there were only about 50 students in an auditorium built for 250.”
Freedman said he had to personally gather students to fill vacant seats at the event.
“Students can’t have it both ways,” Freedman said. “If you don’t come, then speakers won’t come again.”
AOL head discusses media and money
Ted Leonsis, president of Interactive Properties Group, a division of AOL-Time Warner Inc., described the intertwined relationship between media and money to students and GW guests Thursday morning in the MPA auditorium.
“We put the consumer at the heart of everything we do,” Leonsis said. “The consumers are voting every single day with their time.”
To provide consumers with better products at cheaper prices, Leonsis said AOL merged its communications power with Time Warner content to bring various streams of data to consumers.
The overall purpose is “to create a social media and weave together information for commerce,” Leonsis said.
“(AOL-Time Warner) is a multi-media news gatherer, creator and activator for the community,” he said.
Leonsis said through the merger, AOL-Time Warner can now provide additional sources of information to online consumers through multiple links stemming from a central Web site, such as CNN.com.
“We are able, as a programmer, to package that up . and thus provide more fair coverage,” he said.
Leonsis, who owns a large share of the Washington Capitals hockey team, the Wizards basketball team and the MCI Center, said the internet allows fans to voice comments to him and his players.
Leonsis said the United States is in the midst of a “revolution” of empowering consumers. From the creation of the telephone, television, cable and now the internet, economies of scale allow media companies to “offer more and more and charge less and less,” he said.
“What the internet has taught us is that, at the end of the day, we are all in the consumer-obsession business,” Leonsis said.
Panel debates media and democracy
Prominent media figures discussed the impact of innovative technology on American journalism Thursday afternoon in the MPA auditorium.
Former head of the National Press Corps Helen Thomas and legendary CBS radio correspondent Richard C. Hottelet shared the stage with SMPA Director Jean Folkerts and two industry professionals for the panel discussion called “Media and Democracy in the 21st Century.”
Moderator Carl Stern, a GW Shapiro professor, sparked discussion about how technology has changed media throughout history, the responsibility of the press to citizens and what the future of media means for democracy.
The panelists all said there is an abundance of news and information available in today’s media.
“It’s in the air,” Thomas said. “It’s everywhere.”
Stern said this bombardment of information forces people to make choices about which news sources to use.
Hottelet agreed and said people have to take responsibility in screening out the news.
“We have become a nation of spectators,” he said. “We’ve become an inert society where people don’t vote. People are busy but they are only engaged in their own lives.”
Adam Clayton Powell III, vice president of technology and programs at The Freedom Forum, said the future of journalism will be “far more intense than anything we can imagine.” He said 3-D image reporting will allow people to put themselves in an event abroad.
Folkerts said American journalism is more democratic now because journalists are more diverse.
“There is a wider spectrum of voices in today’s media,” Folkerts said.
Powell said American media has become democratic by reflecting society and allowing different voices to be heard.
“Like society,” he said, “you get the good and the bad.”
Responses varied when Stern asked the panelists if they would rather begin working in journalism today rather than when they began their careers.
Thomas said she preferred the “ethical Holy Grail” of the earlier era of journalism when she started out, but Folkerts said she would rather begin her career today because the technology of today’s 24-hour coverage has greater impact on people.
Forum tackles ethics in politics
Former GW professors who now devote their time to politics discussed ethics in American politics in a panel discussion Thursday morning in the MPA auditorium.
Doug Bailey, president and CEO of FreedomChannel.com, Ron Faucheux, editor and publisher of Campaigns and Elections, Ray Strother, chairman of the American Association of Political Consultants, and Carol Whitney, program director for American University’s Campaign Management Institute joined the Paul O’Dwyer Forum on Ethics and Politics.
Moderator Christopher Arterton, dean of the Graduate School of Political Management, offered a series of possible ethical dilemmas to the audience and panel members, including a scenario involving two opposing political parties sitting close to each other in a restaurant discussing strategies. He asked whether eavesdropping would be ethical in such a situation.
The audience raised other ethical questions for the panel.
“A political consultant will go to the jail door with the candidate, but will not go inside,” Strother said. “We all do things we don’t like to get elected.”
Brian O’Dwyer, who funded the forum, said he hoped to accomplish, “a perspective, an idea, a look at what ethics are in America politics.” O’Dwyer is an alumnus of the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences and the Kappa Sigma fraternity.