When Daniel Schorr passed away last month at the age of 93, our industry lost a great journalist. And that description—great journalist—is something that itself is seemingly losing its race against the clock.
In the introduction to his memoir Staying Tuned: A Life in Journalism, Schorr wrote the following about his book: “What you will find, I hope, is a dedication to defending reality against the ever more clever tools of media manipulation and the ever sharper competition for ratings and circulation that have consigned news-gathering into an even smaller corner of a vast entertainment stage.”
The copyright on his book was 2001, meaning those words were penned about a decade ago, before the real explosion of the Internet truly began the shape-altering hatchet job on the journalism industry.
What would he write now? What would he, or the legendary Edward R. Murrow, who recruited Schorr in 1953, say about where journalism is headed today? What would they write about evening news anchors going on Twitter to ask the public what questions they should ask a head of state? What would they write about something called a “content farm” producing “journalism” based on how many Google clicks it will get from an increasingly apathetic and spoon-fed readership?
There is no way Schorr or Murrow or anyone could have foreseen the Internet’s eradication of the journalism industry as we know it. The World Wide Web was supposed to make our youth more worldly, but arguably has done the opposite as Facebook and Twitter have become all the daily news they need to digest—forget silliness like a newspaper or the news on television. Who cares what is going on in Congress or across oceans when you can find out what your buddy is having for dinner that night?
The Internet, the tool by which we fell all over ourselves to give our work away for free, thus imploded the economics of newsgathering in a manner that forever altered the journalism world.
Schorr—and his editors—had to worry about none of this, but rather could focus on the kind of work that famously plunked Schorr on Richard Nixon’s enemies list during a magnificent six decades of covering everyone from McCarthy in the 1950s to Clinton in the 1990s.
So, losing an industry heavy like him is just another reminder of the increasing rarity of truly inspirational journalism, and one of the dwindling chances to remember someone with one of the greatest descriptions we can place on anyone: a great journalist.
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