Alumni Offer Modern Views On Digital Journalism At Communications Panel

Access to news is constantly evolving in the Information Age. Social media and the rise of citizen journalism have forced traditional media outlets to rethink their framework. Despite these shifts, journalists Jonathan Alter ’75, Susan Chira ’76 and scientist Joseph Salvo ’76 agreed that the Internet will not replace traditional journalism.

The three discussed the future of media and communication on the “Communication Complication: Taking on the World Bit by Byte” panel last Friday. “New York Times” best-selling author Alter is a former Senior Editor and Columnist at “Newsweek,” Chira is an Assistant Managing Editor at “The New York Times” and Salvo is a research scientist at General Electric.

With the rise of the Internet and social media, newspapers have been forced to become more dynamic, using video, audio and social media to engage readers and convey information, the panelists said.

While she was the Deputy Foreign Editor at “The New York Times,” Chira instituted a team of re-writers at the major foreign bureaus, who updated stories online while foreign correspondents collected information.

“In terms of the content, which is what I work in, you really have to try to wrestle with the idea of, ‘How do you take an organization that was built and organized around a daily deadline at a fixed point in time, that resulted in a print paper at one fixed point in time, and transform it into a 24-hour news organization that holds true to its values of depth and analysis while adding speed and maintaining accuracy?’” Chira said.

Using the cell phone as an example, Salvo contextualized the rapid pace of technology developments today.

“[The first cell phones] were quite unintelligent. They were basically a box and a radio. It did not take long, because of Moore’s law, which says that computing power doubles every 18 months, to start to integrate more and more intelligence into [phones… now], the Earth is filled with cell phones, and they’re in the billions now. There are more cell phones in China than people in United States, and it shows no sign of waning,” Salvo said.

“We are really on the dawn of this new concept, the Industrial Internet…What we are eventually trying to do is allow minds and machines to collaborate on a global knowledge network,” continued Salvo.

Rather than providing the source of the information itself, as traditional news sources do, the Internet is useful for spreading information, thanks to the rise of citizen journalists. “Citizen journalism” refers to the accumulation and distribution of information and news by the general public, rather than official journalists. Although social media has essentially allowed anyone with a smartphone to “report” breaking news firsthand, Chira said that traditional journalism is necessary to verify and analyze information.

“One of the problems with the Internet is the absolute volume of things of low quality. Being able to actually find things that are of high quality that people are willing to pay for, that is the value of a publication,” Salvo added.

Alter added that the basic “building blocks” of good journalism—“clear writing, clear thinking”—remain unchanged by the advent of technology.

“Talk is cheap and reporting is expensive. Anybody can blog and drop either something valuable or poisonous into the global bloodstream now,” said Alter. “When people are attitudinizing or developing a take on something or linking, what they’re not doing is reporting.”

Although the Internet will allow greater access to information, Chira, Salvo and Alter agreed that the Internet will not replace the traditional education system.

Chira said, “In my role at ‘The Times,’ I’ve overseen a lot of writing about online learning, or the massive online courses, and I see a certain power in those… but what I cherished at Andover was the human connection. I think that the power of a teacher to talk to and inspire another human being is very difficult to transmit in a solely virtual way. And I don’t see how to replace that kind of relationship with technology.”

The panel, funded by an Abbot Academy Association Grant, was organized and co-moderated by Joey Salvo ’14, Commentary Editor for The Phillipian, and Gary Lee ’74, former writer at “Time Magazine” and “The Washington Post” and chair of The Phillipian’s advisory board.