Brown, Lehrer, Woodruff & MacNeil – Live!

I am sitting live in the Cronkite Theater at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU’s Downtown Campus.  There is a massive crowd here to see ASU professor and former CNN anchor Aaron Brown lead a panel discussion with Jim Lehrer, Bob Woodruff and Robert MacNeil.  Photos by Evan Wyloge.

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5:26 – Thanks for reading along, and thanks to Evan Wyloge for the pictures.  Look for more on this event later, including more pictures.

5:25 – Aaron says how much of an honor it has been to have them here, and with that the event ends with a thunderous applause.  Only one question thought, which is a little dissapointing, but for the most part very entertaining.  

5:22 – Woodruff says there are places for broadcasters to do good in-depth stories.  “So take a pay cut and do more stories.  Or get hit in the head.”  It’s good to see that he is lighthearted about his Iraq injury.

5:19 – Lehrer says that a lot of what is being done on broadcast today is not really “investigative” or “in-depth”.  “We have to get control of our own labels.”

5:15 – Brown says “We’re almost done…” It seems the questions are coming.  First question: “Do you believe that broadcast is now where the highest quality reporting will come from in the future?”  Lehrer jumps on the question… he’s talking about the major investigative pieces of the past, Watergate, Walter Reed, and how Walter Cronkite wasn’t doing investigative reporting, just a pull-together.  

5:10 – Bob Woodruff mentions how the longest he’s ever gotten on a signle story was six minuntes.  He says that is rare to get that much, you hardly ever get more than three or four.

5:07 – MacNeil: “I think the coverage of OJ Simpson was a milestone in this field…” He mentions that this was when the news channels decided they could get the most ratings by going 24-hours on one single big story.  And the networks were too afraid to.

5:03 – Lehrer: “It’s not just three or four white men making all the decisions.” Brown: “Don’t I know it!” Lehrer: “We just saw the biggest outpouring of interest in an election ever!”

4:59 – Aaron Brown just let the audience know that we can ask questions now if we have them.  MacNeil just proposed a theory that as commercials went from minute long features, to fifteen second quick hits, news programs fealt threatened that commercials would be more engaging, so they had to speed up also.

4:55 – Woodruff is bringing up how its too exspensive to do the real good investigative in-depth stories.  He tells an anecdote about how once he heard that two reporters wanted to go to Africa to do the same story, and the executive said “both of you go and we’ll see which is better.”  He says that you would never see that today.

4:50 – MacNeil says 60 Minutes is a very well put together show, and it is like a bastion of the old broadcast “golden age” (my words).  “I think it is a very successful conception and continues to be true to its conception.”

4:46 – Woodruff is now talking about how in the old days, you had to get inside “the gate” to report the news.  Now with the internet, theres people reporting from inside and outside the gate.  He says now its hard to find the gates.  Brown: “If the lines were clear… I’m fine with that.  The biggest audience that ABC News will do this week will happen tonight when Diane interviews Ashley Dupree, a prostitute who slept with Elliot Spitzer.  News?  Or Entertainment?”  MacNeil: “Investigative reporting.”

4:43 – It’s clear these legends feel like “dinosaurs” to use their term.  As Lehrer spoke of Jennifer Flowers, MacNeil remined him to tell the audience who that was, to which Brown added “She was Monica Lewinsky before there was a Monica Lewinsky.”  The crowd just laughs… 

4:41 – Lehrer is talking about how he tried to stay away from the less newsworthy news.  Jennifer Flowers, OJ Simpson, etc…  “Lou Dobbs has gotta be called for what he is, he’s a TV personality.”

4:38 – Now we’re talking internet.  Just as Aaron mentions that he loves how his iPhone has the “collective knowledge of the human race,” his phone rings.  “Man!  Right on cue!”  Staged?

4:34 – MacNeil is talking about how not long ago, the Republicans charged the Democrats with treason.  He mentioned how lately we have heard the argument that people who don’t agree with the presidency are “less American.”  “Republicans use this issue, Democrats too.”  

4:30 – Brown: “Recently on NPR they did a story about the Holocaust… and they felt they needed to also talk to a Holocaust denier.  Why??  Thats like arguing that in Arizona in the summer it’s not hot.  IT IS HOT!”

4:27 – Lehrer: “When my picture comes up, I want a super underneath that says ‘journalist’, when Bill O’Reilly’s name comes up a super should come up that says ‘not a journalist’.”  Interesting point about opinion news vs “actual news”.

4:24 – Brown: “There is no shortage of opinion, there is a shortage of fact… all of the growth in the news business has been on the opinion side.  Even CNN, which does less of it, their biggest growth has been in audience. ”  He is trying to understand how that came to be.

4:21 – Lehrer and MacNeil.

4:18 – MacNeil: “I would like to know from the people in this room whether or not I am an old mastadon.”  MacNeil is takling about how he gets his news.  “How many people in this audience… are getting the headlines hour by hour, minute by minute.”  About two thirds do, one third doesn’t.  MacNeil: “Oh my god.”  He feels old because he checks the news in the morning, and then forgets about it.

4:14 – Lehrer: “I can explain this…”  He says that it used to be that all news was, was headlines.  Now it seems things are changing, and now if you missed the headline its the not the end of the world.  Brown: “Thats a 25 year old argument in a sense.”  Brown is now talking about how CNN started the first 24 hour news network.  He says things haven’t changed a whole lot since then.

4:10 – MacNeil is throwing his two cents in about news in the “great decate of broadcast” : “The reality is where is it going? If you confine it to the network news, the audience seems to be eroding.”  

4:07 – Woodruff kicks things off by talking about how he got into journalism.  He started teaching law in Beijing, where he translated for CBS.  He realized over there that he needed to be a journalist.  

4:05 – A little bit late, but we are okay.  Aaron is warming up the crowd with his humor.  “This is gonna be fun, so don’t fret, no one is gonna quiz you on it.”

3:58 – The place is starting to fill up, Aaron Brown is here and sitting in his chair awaiting the arrival of the three guests.  The crew is setting up chairs, but it is likely that this place will be standing-room-only pretty soon.

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