Bissinger Discusses Journalism

Buzz Bissinger ‘72 entertained Phillips Academy students, alumni and faculty last Friday with anecdotes about his time at Andover, love for investigative journalism and hatred for blogs. Bissinger’s talk centered on the decline and future of print media, an industry he felt was currently undergoing major changes. Bissinger said, “[The future of print media] is a provocative topic. I don’t know if I’m right or if I’m wrong.” Born into a family where newspaper reading was a tradition, Bissinger began his lecture by discussing his childhood fascination with newspapers. He admired how the papers would produce a completely new product in the span of just one day. After arriving at Phillips Academy, Bissinger began working at The Phillipian and later at the Daily Pennsylvanian, the school newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania. “Because, [media is] businesses that I’m involved with, newspapers tangentially, because I write a column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, magazines, because I’m involved with Vanity Fair, and books, I really have been interested in [the future of print media],” said Bissinger. “Technology is moving so quickly and the change in peoples’ reading habits are moving so quickly that this is something I’m probably going to have to deal with,” continued Bissinger. According to a study from the Pew Research Center revealed many techniques newspapers are currently using—such as paying for articles online and advertisements –are not working. Bissinger speculated that in the future newspapers might need to adopt a non-profit model. Bissinger also discussed that the Miami Herald resorted to placing tip jars in restaurants and stores around Miami to help raise money. Bissinger said, “You know, I really worry that newspapers are on the face of being obsolete.” Bissinger chose the topic because he had spoken at Andover several times and the majority of the talks had been about his books and he had been thinking about the future of media. “I enjoyed the talk, I think it’s a great topic, but it’s a shame that there wasn’t more time for questions,” said Bissinger. During his talk, Bissinger also elaborated on his dislike for blogs. In his opinion, blog authors have become the authority on subjects that they are commenting on. One student questioned how Bissinger cherished the concept of free media in America yet dismissed blogs as a forum of free media. Bissinger said, “I thought that was a really good question.” In his talk, Bissinger also joked about falling into the trap of “googling yourself” and offered the advice to not read reviews. “The problem about reading reviews is you never remember the good ones, the bad ones stay with you forever,” Bissinger said. He recalled a fellow author, Richard Ford, who said the best 25 years of his life are the 25 years he never read reviews of his books. Bissinger made his talk interactive by directly questioning the audience at times and responding to the audience’s questions at the end of the talk. “I loved the question one student asked about [why I wear] my earring, I thought that was really funny,” said Bissinger. “You know, I wear it because, it’s like what the hell, there’s a point in your life when you don’t really want to conform. And I loved his response, [when I asked him if he wanted an earring], he said he’d have to ask his mother,” Bissinger continued. Bissinger noticed some major changes since his last visit to campus. He said, “[Paresky] Commons has changed radically, the food is actually good. When I was here it was pretty much mystery meat every night, we never quite knew what we were eating. But, well, campus looks great…it also seems to have a feel to it, that makes it more special. It seems like a more humane place than when [I] went there.”