Famous anchor tells students to give

Michael Gsovski

Jim Lehrer, the host of PBS’s “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer,” discussed journalism, and the “revolution” within it Wednesday afternoon in the half-full McCormick Auditorium in Norris University Center.

“Revolutions are seldom pleasant,” Lehrer said. “The screams from newsrooms are those of panic.”

But like any good journalist, his introduction was quickly followed by a summary of his findings: that the demise of mainstream media may be exaggerated.

“I think we have fear itself to fear,” Lehrer said. “The bloggers are commentators, the search engines search. In the beginning, there must be journalism.”

Lehrer spoke as this year’s Minow Visiting Professor in Communications. He is most known for his work on “NewsHour,” which he co-founded with Robert MacNeil in 1982 and has hosted ever since. Lehrer also has hosted 10 presidential debates and written 17 novels, two memoirs and three plays.

The Minow professorship was established by Northwestern alumni Josephine Minow and Newton N. Minow. Previous visiting professors included Walter Cronkite, Frank Rich and Judy Woodruff.

“No one better embodies the ideals of the Minow professorship,” said John Lavine, dean of Medill. “Along with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, (Lehrer) is one of the greatest anchors of his or any age.”

Lehrer began by lauding Newton Minow, a longtime NU professor and former Federal Communications Commission chairman, who famously called television “a vast wasteland.”

“He is the guiding spirit of all of us trying to make something meaningful on television,” Lehrer said. “Simply, directly and accurately put, Newt is a hero to the people.”

Lehrer said that while journalism itself is in no danger of disappearing, the quality of journalism has to be maintained, if not improved.

“Enlightened discourse is not flourishing in this land,” Lehrer said. “The growing result is Americans of all ages turning away from politics.”

He then answered questions from the audience on topics ranging from the emergence of citizen journalists to Dan Rather’s lawsuit against CBS.

However, Lehrer became the most animated when he answered a Medill senior’s concerns about classmates who are not planning to pursue a career in journalism. Lehrer said that despite the low salaries people should “give it a whirl,” both because of the public good and because of the unique experience journalism provides.

“It’s chasing fire engines,” Lehrer said. “It’s following the sirens and asking ‘What happened? Why are all the sirens going off?'”

Some students attended to report on the event for classes, while others went on their own volition.

Medill graduate student Mary Seltzersaid she grew up watching Lehrer’s show.

“I respect (Lehrer),” Seltzer said. “I think he’s getting feistier the older he gets, which I like.”

Erin Edwards, a Medill graduate student, had a recorder in her hand and said she was looking for a story.

“We have an audio report to do tomorrow morning for our newswriting class,” Edwards said. “I’m here to talk to at least three people and get an audience reaction.”

Lehrer said he was impressed with the Medill students he had met at a lunch earlier that afternoon.

“They were well informed, curious and they express themselves very well,” he said.

Reach Michael Gsovski at [email protected]