Future of Journalism interview with Peter Osnos
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08/30/11 Dawn Morgan
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday

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For the second installment of WMNF’s ongoing series on the Future of Journalism, reporter Dawn Morgan spoke with publisher and journalism stalwart Peter Osnos, whose legacy spans well beyond his 45 years in the business.

I’ve got a lot of experience behind me and what I’m trying to do with it all is make myself useful as well as productive in what I think is an unusual combination of experiences, which is to say both as a publisher, as an editor, as a writer, as a journalist. And when you put them together, hopefully you get some impact on what’s happening in the world as we see it going through this tremendous transformation as more and more of what we do is digital.

How are you gauging the current journalism environment?

There’s no question that what we think of as daily journalism has gone through a very difficult period, particularly in the last five years, after a period really of 30 years of what I think history will show as probably the most successful and robust period in the history of American journalism.

The main difference is ads and subscriptions, circulation both took a significant hit from the rise of the internet and various internet related enterprises. I think we’re beginning to see the shape of a future, I think newspapers in the traditional sense that we know them, certainly anyone who’s a grown up now would have thought of them as a primary source of information, has had to come to accept the fact that newspapers are only one of as number of ways in which we get our news.

I am not one of those that believe we’re on the downslide of journalism and that it’ll never be the same and that we’re losing access to major national and international stories. That’s not the problem. I think the problem if there is one is much stronger at the local level.

Where places like state houses and city halls, that used to get much more coverage than they do now, that’s where we need to figure out how to supplement and change the model because the metro dailies which used to provide it and local television, which was stronger in the past than it is now, both are weaker than they once were, and that’s what we’re losing out on, I think.

I’d like to talk about some journalism history. Can you tell me a little bit about I.F. Stone and why he was important?

Oh my goodness, well, I’m guessing that there are fewer and fewer of your listeners who can actually say first hand that they were readers of I.F. Stone’s Weekly because he stopped publishing in the early 70’s.

But what Stone represented is what we think of today as a one of the most prominent bloggers or pamphleteers. If you go back in history to Thomas Paine or in today’s world, Andrew Sullivan, that’s what Stone – Stone was a guy who operated independently, particularly in the years of I.F.’s Weekly, and was one hell of a reporter, a very intrepid investigative reporter. He had a very good voice for making the case that he wanted to make in the work that he did. He set a standard for what today we think of as blogging or commentary.

And if you don’t mind my asking a personal question, your son is Evan Osnos?

Yes, has been for as long as I can remember.

I interviewed him when he was with the Tribune. Were you surprised when he followed in your footsteps?

I don’t think we ever put it in quite those terms. He’s a journalist and I knew he was a journalist since the time he was a small boy with the questions he would ask and the way he showed interest. I think the real good thing is that he had enough years as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune so that when he went to the New Yorker as their Beijing staff writer, he was already someone who knew how to go out and get a story. And now what he focuses on is not only the getting of the story but the telling of the story, which is after all what the New Yorker is all about.

And does it give us pleasure and pride to know that he’s a journalist and a writer of some skill? Boy, I tell you it does. We’re very, very pleased. But I can’t claim that it was my doing. I think he just had it in him. The truth of the matter is that there was an awful lot around him that involved journalism every day, the kinds of conversations that we would have at the dinner table. The New Yorker however seems to be doing very well. And I wish I was able to take credit but he did it all on his own.

In the next Future of Journalism interview, Dawn Morgan speaks with Patrick Manteiga, publisher of the Ybor weekly newspaper La Gaceta.

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