Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Challenges of a Journalism as a Changing Profession

BOND: Fast forward again to your profession. Now you’re a journalist and the profession is under assault financially and many different ways. What’s going to happen?

IFILL: I don’t know. I actually am very troubled about the direction of the newspaper industry, especially. It’s not so great in television either because it’s the same problem, which is resources. It’s seriousness of purpose. It’s finding a way to actually tell the stories and telling them seriously, not being distracted by the next shiny bright light that goes by or the next missing college student who goes away, and actually trying to remember what’s focused. The distinction — the dilemma for newspapers is pretty distinct. I worked at four newspapers before I came into television, so it didn’t occur to me that I’d ever be in television, so that’s where my heart is. And to find that newspapers are now at a place where they can no longer make the financial model work, that the classified advertising is no longer the engine it used to be because Craigslist has popped up or that there is no way to tell a story because there’re so many other ways to get stories.

The problem with that is not that there’s — more information is good. I think it’s great. There’re lots of places for people to get information. But there’s this huge blurring which is underway about what is information and what is news. And so if I turn on my home computer, I will find — my home page will pop up and it will tell me the three most important stories of the day and they might not be important at all. It might be about something that somebody said at a music video award ceremony and everybody’s talking about that, but that — is that news? There are more important stories. It’s why I think public television has a niche because it will always be a place where you know you can go and find it and there will always be people who want to find it in depth, but there’re so many ways to be distracted and to go off in other directions and I’m an old-fashioned, hold-a-newspaper-in-my-hand kind of person, partly because even though I know I can find all the information on the web, I’m more likely to read a story about something I’m not otherwise interested in if I come across it in the paper. If I’m looking at it online, I’m just going to click on what I was already interested in, so that immediately shrinks my knowledge, what I’m capable of learning that day. And that bothers me.

BOND: And it’s happening to you. It’s happening to all of us and it really means a sort of dumbing down of the American public.

IFILL: And we end up going in search of sources that tell us what we know already. Or it’s like, “I think X is bad. I’m going to go and watch the channel that tells me X is bad. I’m not going to go and engage in a debate with anybody about why the other side might have a point.” That’s the basic problem for me, which is there’re fewer conversations now where there’re two people engaged on either side enter it with the possibility that the other guy has a point and it shrinks our understanding.