Washington Post political columnist David Broder told a Samford University audience that both journalism and politics are facing "a real challenge to their leadership" in present-day America.
"The thing that is so clear is that there is a real hunger for politicians who will look beyond the next election," Broder said Tuesday night, April 11. "And in journalism, the hope is for a product that will serve the public and not only the bottom line."
Broder spoke in Reid Chapel at the first Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum, a program honoring the late Samford graduate who went on to a standout career with The Washington Post and other journalistic entities. The Post joined Samford in establishing what will be an annual lectureship.
In a talk entitled "The Press and Politics: The Current Mess," Broder noted that it was "a good time to be out of Washington" because Congress had adjourned without "bringing rationality to immigration laws" and without adopting a budget, and the war in Iraq was causing continuing concern.
"The President and Congress are finding that they have historically low ratings with the public," he said. "And the Democrats are rather tongue-tied about offering any alternative to Republican measures."
People are looking for hope, he said, but "we are all paying the price for a broken political system."
At the same time, the press faces challenges because of "enormously widened choices available to people and changed economic realities," said Broder, whose column is syndicated in more than 300 newspapers internationally.
He noted that times had changed from the days when many newspapers and television stations were family-owned. "Now, most news organizations are part of much larger companies, and this makes it harder to know who is responsible for the news product.
"Good journalism is very expensive because it is labor-intensive," he said. "It takes time to produce. But who is going to pay the bill? Web sites are not now producing big revenues. Internet news is free."
Broder said people use Internet news as a headline service, looking for a quick summary.
"Speed is the most important thing, but speed is the opposite of care," he said. "The editing responsibility (in journalism) is critical."
To help maintain a quality news product, Broder believes the Internet must pay part of the cost of newsgathering.
Members of the press "are all part of a private, profit-making business that renders a public service," Broder reminded his audience. He said it had two basic responsibilities: providing information to citizens, and monitoring government.
"This provides the rationale for exempting news companies from regulation by government," he noted. "The nation's founders took a gamble on a free press, and this places an exceptional burden of responsibility on proprietors."
As part of the Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum, Broder and Post deputy managing editor Milton Coleman spoke to Samford journalism classes. The Post also will sponsor a two-week internship for a Samford journalism student each spring.
Robinson, a 1965 Samford graduate, joined The Post in 1969 and covered the Watergate trials of the mid-1970s. Later, the Dora, Ala., native was editor of the National Law Journal, America's largest legal newspaper. He died in 2003 from complications following cancer surgery.