Why should people care about socially minded or civic-education journalism?
Because almost all of these things that socially minded journalists and socially minded people think are important have huge impact on the lives and well-being of people. They're not important because they're philosophically important. They're practically important. How we deal with this complicated question of what to do about our financial insitutions and the regulation of them will be extremely important for our future. Healthcare is another thing, and it's very complicated. Getting people's attention and holding it to deal with complicated things is no small task. That's the challenge for today's generation of journalists.
What is journalism?
Journalism is a process by which people get some level of understanding about the things that shape their lives. And in a self-governing society, even though we know people don't decide policy directly, their general understanding of things does shape the way public-policy decisions are made. The quality of our public policy will, in part, turn on how civically educated the public is. You might not know it or think about it. But you might not think about food and drug regulations, until you come down with food poisoning.
So should news companies focus on making their news more emotionally charged?
We need to develop a way to talk about what professional and ethical constraints we have on the way we use emotion. I grew up aspiring to the definition of professional journalism that I learned. It involved verification, detachment, and emotional restraint. And neutrality. Now I think that some of those disciplines may make it difficult for journalism to reach people.
What advice would you give to students who are considering entering the field of journalism?
I think it's a terrifying and a thrilling moment for a young person. It's terrifying for obvious reasons: We don't know where it's going. On the other hand, for creative people, what a thrill. Your success is going to be measured by finding ways to tell stories and communicate information. And you're going to have to do that in a dramatically different way. It's sort of like an open field for creative people. For people who want to get into a predictable world, it's not a very attractive place. But frankly, the best journalists were never like that. I would never hesitate to encourage people to get into this.