The First Amendment; Michichey
WGBH radio Boston in cooperation with the Institute for democratic communication at Boston University now presents the First Amendment and a free people. An examination of civil liberties and the media in the 1970s and now here is the director of the Institute for democratic communication. Dr. Bernard Reuben.
Delighted to have as my guest today Mr. Sal J Mitchie K. of the Boston Globe he's the assistant to the editor for legal problems. And personnel. So Micha Kay after receiving his degree in journalism Boston University started his reporting career as an Army combat correspondent with the Pacific Stars and Stripes during the Korean War. He later joined the Portsmouth New Hampshire Herald where he won the New England Associate Press feature award in 55 he came to the Boston Globe and after a brief stint as General Simon reporter he was assigned to the State House he's covered the Republican national conventions the Democratic National Conventions and has covered Congress the White House the Supreme Court the Justice Department in Washington. He also went to cover Watergate in the final days of the Nixon administration. In 75 he came back to Boston to take his present position. Welcome Mr. Mitchell. My co-host today is Roger collie the associate dean of the school of public communication. Our subject is access. And I think I might introduce this by referring to a book written in the late 1950s published by Raynal and company Joseph and and Stuart also abs book the reporters trade and you'll find there that they discussed some of the things that reporters should do. One of the things that a reporter should do they say and I'm quoting now it means or the reporter while always remembering that he is only an honest tradesmen must also remember that he has a high and necessary public function to perform. He performs his function if the information the people need is transmitted to the people as a sewage commission or a water commission or performs his function if the flow through the pipes is maintained and what public functionaries have greater reasons for pride. Annoyed by doubt that efficient water and sewage commission is Furthermore the reporter has just as much right to be indignant if he is prevented from performing his function of transmitting information as a sewer a Water Commission has a right to be indignant if his precious pipes are tampered with now on that level. Rather mundane but rather rather practical level. I'll ask you sell me if you are happy with the with the kind of reportorial work and and specifically are you happy with the amount of access that a modern metropolitan newspaper you're not going to be speaking here for the Globe today but for as a newspaperman that a modern metropolitan newspaper provides its constituents.
Well let me say that on a day to day basis it is reporters and publishers generally wish to provide more space.
A newspaper for all forms of news opinion interpretive reporting the newspaper is generally conceived as an open ended product. It can be that it can be as large or small as someone decided but there are certain strictures not the least of which is the economics of the newspaper business. But the desire is there.
Desire is the daily news conferences for each segment of the newspaper to insure for more space. And certainly we would like to present more news.
We would like to present more letters to the editor like to present more ideas from all from the entire spectrum of the community.
But we have to operate on the basis that I read it is a surrogate reader and the decisions must be made as to the content of each day's newspaper and someone has to make those decisions.
And I do know that newspapers many newspapers and I guess I can't speak here in terms of the globe because it's what I'm familiar with.
We do try to present as much general spectrum of news as we can each day.
What ways do you get a sense of how well you are creating open access. What are some of the ways for instance in the in the busing situation that Boston newspapers measured whether or not they were giving access to all points of view on that particular controversial issue.
Well on not just on that but on a daily basis on all forms of I believe we would get a general sense from the letters that come to the editor or to the paper. Various opinions from leaders of organizations that are involved in a particular issue. But it would be a feedback to be a reaction to the way we presented each day's product.
Could you go over this without being specific about who said why. But the kinds of groups the kinds of groups now that that and more coverage from say the globe or any other major part newspaper or how they express themselves and what really they rail about. When you you get their views by phone or in person or any other way.
Well in talking to various groups or organizations or the things that I find is that in any group five or 10 or 20 or even 100 you'll find that they are as diversified as the newspaper itself from an identical audience get a complaint that there's too much national and foreign from the same audience that complaint that there's not too much local knows and it just it would go back and forth some will say there's too much sports or there's not enough. So I maintain that we should get rid of the comics. This insists that the comics should be run and always in sequence. But the newspaper is a composite of many things. It's not just news and it's not just the editorial pages but there are comics that interest people. There are other features recipes confidential chat but all these go to make up a product we hope is a universally accepted product or at least universally appealing product. There should be more than one reason for buying a newspaper and it very often may be for the for the ads which show we should not denigrate in any way because they are a part of the general product. There are people who buy newspapers for the ads and they have their own audience just as much as an editorial page that you know the components of the of the paper going to write.
One of the topics being discussed today that kind of goes along with Access is so-called agenda setting function of a newspaper that is newspaper decides what topics they're going to write about. Put kind of negatively it's often referred to as pack journalism. One newspaper is unwilling to discuss a topic that isn't in at the moment and that all the other newspapers and news magazines are covering at times. When a newspaper does stick its neck out and handle something like for instance the early days of Watergate reporting newspapers were afraid to pick up on that particular story because they thought the Washington Post was taking a flier. Well how does an editorial staff at a newspaper try to keep the balance between following the pack and covering stuff that's been covered nauseum and being sort of trailblazers in public opinion. Well average.
First let me take the last part of that nation to be trailblazer to enter into a field of reporting that no one else is doing. Teams on various newspapers are largely charged with that. That function is also among the general reporters. The natural inclination for the for the beat of the scoop on a particular day.
Pack journalism has various meanings. But what happens to be of interest. Generally newspapers across the country on that particular day is not necessarily pack journalism. It may be an event that is taking place. Watergate was in a significant kind of story and in the early days most newspapers did not carry too much of Watergate. And I think there was an inclination that there was a judgment perhaps that just couldn't be. And it was perhaps the inclination not to follow the Washington Post. On those early days the story mainly because it was The Washington Post that had alone had the facts in the story and they were confirmed elsewhere. And I think this is was was part of it when those facts began to become confirmed during the early 90s 73 McCord and Dean in the Senate Watergate hearings when they all took place. Then there was I think a growing feeling and the judgment that the facts that were really cited earlier by The Washington Post were capable of confirmation and were indeed confirmed in some respects so therefore then you may have described the ensuing days as pack journalism.
But it probably was something different than that in your answer a couple times you talked about judgment or it was a feeling that this should be covered a certain way. One of the complaints that I think people lodge against newspapers in terms of access is that there is a certain type of person making editorial decisions and that perhaps minorities are either racial or ethnic and perhaps even women are not in positions of judgment so that you tend to see the world through a certain set of eyes. What changes have been taking place say in the last 10 or 15 years in newspapers to kind of circumvent having all the people making editorial decisions essentially white middle class Americans.
Well there have been a change but first let me let me say one thing.
Decisions in newspapers are not usually made by one individual sitting by himself and poring over the events of the news that made my daily conferences of a group of that as each representing a particular field of national local suburban sports pages economy financial woes and the decisions I made in a sense by a committee with final judgments being made by the managing editor of each newspaper so that they are.
There is an awful lot of import that goes into those judgments. Now in terms of minority input and women and such. Though they may not be directly represented.
Many newspaper boards such groups of editors I think in the last 10 years have become certainly a lot more prevalent and a lot more knowing and among editors who do make those judgments.
Some newspapers are women and minorities have risen to the position of being among those that it is who do make those judgments on a day to day basis and I would hope and I believe that trend will continue so that there will be greater representation of all segments of a community within newspapers making those kinds of judgments no decisions are made quite consciously that.
Access will be limited in terms of what is presented in the newspaper for example. It is charged across the country that major metropolitan newspapers have tended to leave the suburbs alone and they have learned from the Long Island experience and from their own experiences that a conscious decision to go after all of those people out there in the suburbs of every great community will be very costly and will involve new kinds of reporters will involve new kinds of services. On the other hand having given the trade away as it were to newspapers which have proliferated in the suburbs they have become more parochial. And when something like Roger's question about bussing comes up they don't seem to get the feel for both sides of the story because they're not covering.
We're a great many people live and the so that they get complained against by the inner city people and by the suburban people is there any way out. Or am I incorrect in stating that there is a conscious decision.
Well among newspapers it may have been a conscious decision because of the economics of distribution. Trucking your papers through or through rush hour out to the suburbs. You may arrive there and the product may be may not arrive in time but that that those things may change through technology. The Wall Street Journal now through the laser beam a means of transmission and satellite printing plants you may see more of that in the future as we go to the year 2000. That is one means of overcoming a very serious distribution problem because of congested highways and such. But the coordinate with that would be perhaps bureaus out in the suburbs which would then feed in your material to the newspaper. The other aspect would be zoning. Zoned editions of a newspaper.
Those newspapers going to north of the city would have much more suburban news and so forth just north south and west perhaps. But zoning is a matter of concern among many newspapers. There are two theories on that and that is one that something happens in the northern part of the north and scope of metropolitan paper may still be of interest to people in the southern part of the Southern scope and those judgments of course would have to be reconciled but it is something that newspapers act considering more and more and some have done it with considerable success.
This is just a follow up on the question Is it possible the newspaper owners and publishers don't realize just talking about the major metropolitan newspapers the big big dailies. The day of the city newspaper may be over and that any major daily that doesn't cover at least the state or perhaps even the region on a regular basis on a daily basis may not be servicing its clients who may catch a train ride or a bus or a car ride to work and then go back and service the inner city people because their interests may be in getting out of the inner city or they may be taking a car ride out their work in a plant or an office or a school. And the concept of city journalism certainly under the First Amendment is the responsibility of the publisher of the owner he can do what he wants with his newspapers within reasonable limits so long as people buy it. But beyond that he they may be missing the boat. How do you feel about that.
Well there are a lot of a lot of ongoing studies fact the studies of newspapers and their circulation and readership are virtually constant I think in the United States there's always a newspaper with a study going on at the time and that is a continuing question to them and where are their readers or where their potential readers and what a newspaper should do has to do in order to maintain. First it's economic stability and secondly of course its continuance as a medium for providing information to people. But there are studies that would indicate that metropolitan newspaper has to has to go beyond city limits and its particular happens to be located. And the other suggestion is that it be more regional more than even suburban. But those are things that are being considered nationally by by many publishers. And these studies are ongoing will continue to be ongoing and I think that we tied in with the progress of technology as well as to how to provide that type of widespread service that a newspaper should and feels that it should provide.
And they are in and yet be cognizant of the economics of putting out that paper.
You know one of the problems that the newspaper faces is the sheer volume of information that passes through its doors each day United Press International just did a study recently showing that its average members of people that subscribe not members that its average subscriber threw away 95 percent of all the wire copy that comes over the wire which has led them to move more into kind of a computer access type of information delivery so that the newspaper doesnt have to sift through three miles of paper each day to get the 5 percent of news that it wants to do. How does a newspaper determine what out of all that volume information is going to use and do so in a sense of fairness to the access of its constituency.
Do you do it the same way that some professors grade papers have a two story house and throw the heaviest ones down for the days.
I wish it was that simple. Now its calculated at the Globe that from all our wire services Reuters and all the others.
For us to print everything that comes in on the wire without repeating the same story we would need 1000 more columns per day or roughly another hundred twenty five hundred thirty pages.
And it does become a monumental problem for the judge and so again whatever value an editor has it is in the form of his judgement. It's not just making punctuation copy but his judgment in determining what needs to be reported on a particular day. Secondly what most readers would be interested in reading on a particular day and much of it is also the chairman by which pages have to hit the presses early on a particular day and what is available for those early pages of the newspaper is not made up entirely in the last 15 minutes. The pages have to be set early or late in the afternoon for the morning paper very early in the morning for the afternoon paper. So what is available at that time what is what needs to be reported at the ticket. And what will be of the most interest to the most number of people. Now we're coming we're coming to it. I can see the next question being well that just takes care of the great huge center majority What about the two ends. Well the two ends of the spectrum Well that has to be done dealt with in a different different sense a different way.
When the through press conferences or through or through organizational announcements and such.
But on a daily basis what comes in over the wires What I'm concerned about right now that is dealt with in terms of an editor's judgment of what needs to be reported. That is what is the particular day out of Washington that the foreign capitals out of Boston out of the state house.
Community those are judgments that exercised every single day every morning every afternoon and in the course of how you do you find out the the papers like the real paper in the Boston area have changed the concept on the metropolitan dailies of what editors are forced to strive for in other words are they forced to compete with the people who write the longer story less concerned about the date of the event but more concerned about a wrap up that will please their readers in some form or fashion do you find that hot breath of the so-called underground newspapers which have become more establishment in their in their routine changing the attitude of editors and metropolitan dailies.
Well I think we had pretty much the same attitude along with who are we reporters are striving to produce the long take out some time.
Is it easier for them no press no well I think it's pretty much to say the same strictures of space time personnel. Although we have you know we have it is an idea sheet that never fall below 60 ideas at any given time.
It's just a case of having time and space. And these are stories that can be run at any time. They are of interest general interest we feel that it's just a case of finding the personnel spring to do the story and the space to present them and at considerable length. But one of the reasons for the emergence for example of a Focus section and the Sunday Globe was to provide a section and at least one day of the newspaper where stories of considerable length could be presented. And my recollection is that that preceded somewhat the arrival of the newspapers. So the idea of stories of depth and perception and investigation. Was it was in the minds of.
It is for sometime you know addition to the economic pressure or competition I would say from papers like the real paper. One of the trends over the last 20 30 maybe even 40 years has been kind of a push toward monopoly. Many cities Fortunately Boston is not one of them but many cities now have no competing daily newspapers. What is the trend toward newspaper monopolies done for access in general in American journalism.
Well I cant speak to that from any prison experience within any other city but.
I believe in what I read. Seeing a monopoly situation the less chance of success. The cities because they are a monopoly.
The revenues increased to the point size Crees making making vailable columns for access so I think you can probably run both and then I think maybe the dividing line is not strictly a monopolization rationale but really one of that.
So I've got a question I only have about two minutes left. Every so often we get the old nursing home story. In most communities the scandal in the nursing homes yet in between stories nobody seems to do anything on a on a steady basis. Most people say that the plight of old people often has poor retarded children disadvantaged children and so on and so forth are never the prime interest of newspapers unless there is a scandal that they that they wait until they get the pot boils over what's your reaction to that is that valid.
Well it isn't.
I mean like a lot of things when perceptions are made and given a moment or an instance I do know that we have had stories and institutional care that were not precipitated by any particular originated with among the constant ideas and I think it works probably both the way it has worked has been from both directions they may well have been an event tragedy for example that has precipitated investigative reporting or.
An interest of the newspaper to do it on its own in learning of this new society or association of investigative reporters which held their first meeting in the west the other day to see whether they come up with something new by way of news coverage. Roger do you have a last quick question about 1 1/2 minutes time that we have.
Yeah I think if people feel that they are not getting access to the newspapers what very briefly could you suggest to them to increase the chances that they would have access to be very brief.
Well I think they should probably come in and talk to. And editors will do that because it should present.
It is generally people who listen to what they feel right when I want to say thank you to our host Mr Sound UK of the editorial staff of The Boston Globe system to the editor and to Mr. Roger collie the associate dean of school of public communication at Boston University. This is Bernard Reuben saying good night.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
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