Bill Densmore's running notes on tonight's conversation: "What Would Walter Williams Say?" at the Donald W. Reynolds Jouranalism Institute. Typos will be cleaned up later in the evening!
Ron Farrar thinks it is a mistake to blame it all on the Internet.
Smaller newspapers are doing OK. They have lost only 2% circulation.
Williams would put it in context “and I think he would go beyond blaming it on technology. I think WW would say one of the major problems is that much of the audience, especially the larger papers, no longer trusts what it reads or sees.”
He thinks WW would be appalled by the liberal bias he would see in much of the media. He thinks WW would be amazed how many people “have been pushed into the clutches of Rush Limbaugh.” He says Fox news dominates radio and TV.
He says Williams was extremely liberal in his own time. “Key words, fairness and accuracy. I think those are missing.”
MILLS: “I’ve given up trying to channel Walter Wiliams.” But every morning he thinks: “Please don’t screw it up today.”
“I think he would have embraced enthusiastically the new technologies and would have tried to think about how to use them to produce better journalism . . . and about how to support democracies . . . . “
MILLS: “I guess I ma not as convinced as ron that he would have been all that alarmed by what we call the MSM covers the news.” There have always been biases, even in WW’s time from the right and the left. Main objective “is to try to sort that out as much as possible and get rid of that as much as possible.”
FARRAR: “The people who switch over to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are in many cases just trading one bias for another.”
MILLS: “To many extends, they have lost connection with who their audiences . . . [he hopes] the new technologies will help us solve that problem.”
FANCHER: Students have talked about that lack of connection.
FARRAR: A second point he would bring up: Civility. For all his determination, “nobody was more tenacious, than WW with all he went through to found this school and yet throughout it all he was very much courteous, a gentleman. I think we’ve lost some of that.”
Tells the story about Joan Kroc. “It was a smart alec story. What I’m saying is WW would have found a way to get that story in the paper without alienating everybody in the town.” Yet, “not to have that story in the paper would have been inexcusable.” MILLS: Because of Drudge: “Responsible media now have to react to rumors . . . because its in the conversation.”
FARRAR: “First, you gotta like the country. You can’t be condescending in your copy.” “I think WW had great respect for the community in which he lived and the people he was writing to and for.”
MILLS: “To me this is much more important than a liberal or conservative bias – there is kind of a smart alecky bias – a sort of condescension . . . and it is offputting to people.”
FANCHER: Notes that in his conversations with some of the other RJI Fellows, that is some evidence that the journalism on the web is more solution oriented than “gotcha” oriented.
FARRAR: WW was a deeply religious man. "This was another example of the way that WW was very much in tune with the community and he shared the values of the community ... he was very much like the people he was writing to ... how often have you heard people say that journalists are out of touch with their audiences?"
FANCHER: What would Williams say about the timelyness of the Creed today?
FARRAR: "I think he might feel it was a little dated."
MILLS: "There is a kind of professional culture among journalists that makes fun of itself. It's part of newsroom culture, as I'm sure you know, a kind of self-depracatory nature. I think we have sometimes sabotaged ourselves by giving the impression that journalism is a craft, not a profession." Williams fought for that. "It is easy to forget now what a hard fight that was [for him.]" Placing education of it in the university was aimed at fighting that.