Nostalgia is not revival

Daniel Schorr, by Martin Jones, NPR publicity photoDaniel Schorr has a new book and the interviews are beginning. At age 91, Schorr is the oldest, full-time journalist in the business. He writes and broadcasts for NPR now, and his mind is still sharp as ever. If there ever was a “traditional journalist,” it is Daniel Schorr, and he told the Sacramento Bee that he’s glad he’s not any younger.

Q: In the book’s introduction, you talk about adapting from one medium to another, having worked in newspapers, radio and television. I wonder what you think about the changing media landscape today.

A: At my age, I look at it and say, “Boy, I’m glad that’s for other people.” I couldn’t stand what’s going on today (as a reporter). Of course, the changes are partly technological. You no longer have to rely on a great newspaper like the Sacramento Bee or on a television network to get news. You can go on the Web and get anything you need.

And I’ve found that people are now deluged with information. In my day, as a newspaper man, radio man and television man, I had the feeling I was telling people something they wouldn’t otherwise know. That’s no longer true. I’m glad I’m not 20 years younger, because I’d be very discouraged.

Q: In some commentaries, you touch on the latest journalistic trends, sometimes in not so complimentary a way. Such as blogs and citizen journalism. Is this a form of news gathering that you embrace?

A: I can’t embrace it. Not after what I’ve been through at the hands of the copy editors’ desks. I have suffered many, many arguments about what I’ve wanted to say — whether it was grammatically correct, factually correct and all of that — and I want everybody to have to experience what I experienced. But today, your blogger is totally free. He is his own reporter, his own editor, his own publisher, and he can do whatever he wants.

A person like me who believes in the tradition of a discipline in journalism can only rue the day we’ve arrived at where we don’t need discipline or anything. All you need is a keyboard.

When I read stuff like this, my heart goes out to guys like Schorr, who worked in an era of centralized media power. I have too much respect for him to call him a dinosaur, but the reality is that his ideas are based in a cultural era that is no more. We can wax about how good it was and lament the losses that we feel, but the extent to which it is purely nostalgia does more harm than good.

If the “discipline” of journalism is what needs reviving, it simply won’t happen by driving with our eyes on the rear view mirror. Nostalgia is not revival. Never has been. Never will be.

(ASIDE: If you read the link, take note of the condescending tone of Schorr’s questioner as regards anything new.)


  1. it matters not how old they are, many long for yesterday.

    B&C (which i otherwise enjoy) is running a banner ad for a panel at the upcoming natpe. it’s called “Back To Basics… afterall, it’s still the tv business”

    oddly, its sponsor is a none other than a successful web channel- RL.TV.

    i think ya’ can get away with calling them guys dinosaurs.

  2. Maybe Daniel Schorr’s mind is “sharp as ever” if, that is, his mind wasn’t very sharp to begin with. His commentaries are predictable as a sunrise — regurgitate conventional wisdom, add Nixon era historical context, finish with standard liberal spin.

    He is tedious in exactly the same way William Kristol will be as a a NYTs columnist.

  3. I agree with Dave — the quality of Daniel Schorr’s commentaries is totally predictable. They are consistently acute, profound and insightful. Obviously that annoys a lot of people.

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