The strengths and weaknesses of modern media were discussed at an alumni panel, “Media and Influence: Don’t Shoot the Messenger,” Saturday morning during Reunions.
The panelists included Karen Magee ’83, Dan Porter ’88, Helen Coster ’98, AJ Smith ’03 and Jennifer Epstein ’08. Julian Zelizer, a professor in the history department and the Wilson School, moderated the panel.
Magee is Time Warner’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Porter is the CEO of OMGPOP, Coster is a journalist, Smith is a freelance journalist and Epstein is a White House reporter for POLITICO.
Epstein is also a former managing editor for The Daily Princetonian. Coster is a former staff member.
“It’s interesting that when each of those new vehicles came out, of course the world completely predicted the demise of all of the previous mediums,” Magee said, discussing changes in the media. “Although the newspaper and magazine industries are somewhat beleaguered, they are still around and published, which is great.”
The panelists discussed the benefits of the rise of online journalism and social media, noting that these media allow for information to be distributed more quickly and allows for a relationship between the reporter and the consumer.
The problem with the faster distribution of news, however, is that it often leads to more inaccuracies, the panelists said. Magee said that a benefit of the quicker nature of online media is that incorrect information can be corrected more quickly, while Porter argued that the consequences for being wrong are low since the news is constantly updated.
Epstein also lamented the fact that a reporter’s work gets very little attention unless he or she is covering the latest scandal or breaking news. This means that top news is limited to only a few topics, the panelists said.
“We’re largely — I mean I’ll overstate this in a way — delivering what people want,” Magee said. “The sources that present both sides of the story, if people [decide] that’s where they choose to get their news they’ll do better, they’ll do more of it.”
Coster said that she tells her friends that journalists provide all the information that they have across the different media they have at their disposal, but it is up to the consumers to decide how to consume it, especially as sound bites and opinion commenters take up a large portion of airtime.
“You just have to be a very thoughtful consumer of news in this day in age and go to sources that you trust and be skeptical as you read other sources,” Coster said.
Porter and Epstein added that more education and awareness of the different types of media and ways in which information can be shared — whether as hard news or opinionated pieces — would be beneficial for consumers.
“Nobody goes to school and learns how to make sense of various news things — what’s truth and what’s not truth, what’s opinion and how to read a newspaper and how do you use all of this stuff,” Porter added.
Many of the problems in journalism today, though, boil down to the fact that the media outlets do not have enough money to devote to longer-term investigative pieces or to allowing reporters to travel to where a story is taking place, the panelists agreed.
“It’s a constant battle, but I think if we keep talking about it, keep demanding good journalism, keep demanding with your eyes and with what you choose, then they will be willing to pay for it,” Smith said.
The panel was sponsored by the Alumni Association of Princeton University. It took place at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday in Aaron Burr Hall, Room 219.