Koppel: Technology is changing news industry rapidly
LAURA ROMPF and MAUREEN SMITHE
The face of journalism is changing due to continuing technological advancements, "Nightline" anchor and managing editor Ted Koppel told a packed the Hesburgh Library Auditorium Thursday.
Over his 36 years in television news, Koppel said, his experiences have evolved due to changes in technology and, he predicted, the experiences of reporters will continue to evolve.
"The nature of journalism is a moving target and a changing phenomenon. The future will be very different from what I have seen throughout my career," he said.
Technology has widened the definition of who can practice journalism, a definition which has always been broad, but primarily only so in theory, he said.
"Journalism is one of the very few professions which requires no training whatsoever," he said. "It is a privilege implicitly granted to everyone ... until recently, that privilege was theoretical."
Technology has expanded journalists' audience — no longer fully dependent on access to a printing press, said Koppel.
"Without the capacity to distribute, you can say what you want, but no one will hear it. Now anyone with a computer can read what you wrote," he said.
Despite the temptations and challenges posed by new distribution methods, journalists must perform their work honestly and fairly, he said.
"Never publish or broadcast a story before you know it is accurate," he said.
Emphasizing "honesty, fairness and decency," Koppel added that all journalists should "provide a voice for the powerless. You have an incredible license to anywhere, but your main purpose is the communication of ideas."
The nature of communication has changed dramatically, Koppel said, and the results are not always for the better.
"The technology of delivering information has changed, but the fundamentals have not," Koppel said. "Thirty years ago car phones barely existed. I may have received three or four important calls over a year, but I've made and received hundreds of irrelevant calls simply because I can."
Koppel presented a paradox he has experienced during his career. While reporting from Cambodia in 1970, he attempted to call his wife in the United States from his hotel. After waiting two and a half hours, her voice was "cottony and cloudy."
However, 29 years later in Kosovo, his cellular phone was capable of reaching London or Washington within seconds.
Koppel also addressed the explosion of new networks into television airwaves.
"When I joined ABC news in 1963, there were three networks," he said. "The average U.S. household now receives 57 television channels. Communicating with a national and even international audience is now technologically in the reach of anyone with the Internet."
Koppel considers the Internet's full access for all to be "a blessing and a curse."
"The glory of new technology and the acquisition of information has made journalism a truly democratic process." he said
He warned, there is "so much information that the mind does not know what to believe."
"We are these days drowning in information . . . almost none of which evolves into wisdom," he said. "Information does not always lead to knowledge and knowledge is rarely enough to produce wisdom."
Koppel has won 32 Emmy awards, 17 honorary degrees and was inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. He has anchored "Nightline" since its 1963 inception and has worked for ABC for 36 years.
The lecture was sponsored by the department of American Studies and the Notre Dame Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy.
It was funded by a donation from John and Susan McMeel.
All News Stories for Friday, September 17, 1999