Expert media panelists said the war on terrorism has put American journalism in danger and changed the way the public gets its news Tuesday in the School of Media and Public Affairs auditorium.
The aftermath of Sept. 11 has created a 24-hour news cycle that has received much criticism from the public for errors during spot coverage.
“We are not in this business to be popular,” said Leonard Downie, Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post.
Media experts said they fear government restraints on the competitive news arena will bring new challenges and could win over public support.
“There is a danger that the public may support the kind of restrictions on press freedom that the administration recently has been imposing,” said former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry.
CNN White House correspondent Kelly Wallace said the Bush White House is tight-lipped, adding that getting information from the administration is the biggest challenge in covering this war.
“We’ve had 10 weeks of a secret war,” Downie said. “Clearly the secretary of defense is a control freak and running this for himself . (but) he has promised never to lie to us, and I don’t believe he ever has.”
Downie discussed the dangers of foreign correspondents reporting from Afghanistan in a war in which seven journalists have died. He described conditions in which reporters have hired bodyguards, survived snowstorms in the mountains and slept on the ground while using satellite phones to communicate with The Post.
Panelists said they have received criticism for “swimming against the American tide,” which was evident in questions from students in the audience. Most on the panel said they believe they are attaining journalistic objectivity.
“It is the nature of our reporters and editors to work hard at being careful and (getting it right), and we get criticism by readers for it,” Downie said.
The media has undergone a drastic change in news coverage, as journalists get back to the “hard news levels of the 1970s,” said Carin Dessauer, a GW Shapiro Fellow and former CNN executive.
Correspondent for “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” Terence Smith said since Sept. 11 the media has “woken up” and started delivering what the audience really wants: accurate and quick news, rather than manufactured news, such as stories on missing intern Chandra Levy. Smith described news coverage before the attacks as a “kind of slick, cynical, post-Seinfeld sort of approach.”
Dessauer, who moderated the panel, said only 48 percent of the public was keeping up with the news before Sept. 11 and perceptions of the media were low. After the attacks, 86 percent of the public rated the media favorably, and the public’s use of the internet for news was at a record high by October, she said.
“Most people went to television (on Sept. 11) but very quickly they started going to the internet . to find out more,” Smith said.
Within the first hour of Sept. 11, news sites were unable to keep up with the crisis.
“CNN, ABC News and (The New York) Times were down for two hours . USAToday.com fortunately was not down, but the response times were at 25 seconds, which was close to unusable,” said USAToday.com Editor-in-Chief Kinsey Wilson.
The change media are undergoing has some positive effects, panelists said.
“I don’t know about the long-term consequences, but I do know one thing: This crisis has brought us a new news audience, a younger audience, that had turned away before this,” Smith said.