'Calm down,' Lehrer says

'Calm down,' Lehrer says

October 14th, 2009 by Joan Garrett McClane in News

SEWANEE, Tenn. -- Public television newsman Jim Lehrer on Tuesday told journalists to buck up, saying bloggers and pundits never will replace serious, fair news reporting.

"(Journalists) are in a revolution ... and you can hear the screams for help, but I say calm down," said Mr. Lehrer, who spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 during a speech at Sewanee: The University the South. "Whatever the route it may travel to the blogger, the commentator or the (Internet) search engine, (news) has to start with one of us. One of us boring reporters."

Mr. Lehrer, executive editor and anchor of PBS's award-winning nightly news program "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" received an Emmy Award in 1973 for his coverage of the Senate Watergate hearings. He also has moderated several nationally televised political debates and written more than 20 books.

His speech was the highlight of Sewanee's Founders' Day convocation, during which students with high academic achievements are honored.

Wil Heflin, a senior psychology major at Sewanee who attended the convocation, said he was excited to see Mr. Lehrer on campus, especially since he invoked the Sewanee football chant -- "Tigers, tigers, leave 'em in the lurch, down with the heathens, up with the church" -- during his remarks.

"People think of journalists as dry, but he was funny," said Mr. Heflin.

He said he's glad to know there are journalists like Mr. Lehrer who are more interested in informing people than stirring the pot.

"He emphasized not getting bogged down in what the commentators and pundits say, 'cause the world isn't so polarized," said Mr. Heflin. "There are people who enjoy rational discourse."

Mr. Lehrer said many reporters and editors working at newspapers, magazines or on television news programs are embattled by shrinking profit margins and severe cutbacks. At the same time, cable news opinion programs and comedic news shows are seeing their ratings soar, he said.

Still, everyday journalists working to dig up stories and report them fairly are the backbone of every blog post and one-liner about current events, he said.

"In the beginning is the news," he said. "No one is going to laugh about what they don't already know."

As the world continues to change with the invention of new technologies, journalists should evolve and learn to communicate on different platforms, Mr. Lehrer said. But reporters can't give in to pressure to use flashy gimmicks or shift their focus to entertainment, he said.

"I don't want to be confused with the clowns," he said. "The first story should be professional and politically straight. ... We, the boring ones of regular journalism, must keep our eye on the ball."