George Stephanopoulos, Katie Couric and other distinguished news figures were on the USC campus for the Walter Cronkite Awards on Wednesday to talk about the state of their professions, but it was impossible for the conversation not to steer to the crazes that have consumed most of media: Blogging and Twitter-ing.
Stephanopoulos, the host of ABC's "This Week,", pointed out that that he has gotten ideas for questions from Twitter, and "it is a way for you to have a better sense of what is going on out there in the country."
Couric sent out a Twitter on Tuesday that she'd be going not just to USC, but to the taping of "American Idol."
"I Twitter and blog very selectively," she told a crowd of students, politicos and other journalists. "I don't think anybody gives a rats ass whether I am about to eat a tuna sandwich. I don't even care. Some of it is so inane and narcissistic and bizarre I don't quite get it. I don't know why anyone would want to read it, much less why I would want to write it."
Where she has used it, however, has been before certain interviews or other occasions.
"I was at a lunch at the White House before [President Obama's speech] before a joint session of Congress, with George and and all the anchors of the Sunday shows and the evening newscasts — and, by the way, I was the only woman there, which I thought was really pathetic — and I wrote about that because we could talk about it. It is not something I could ever have time to devote to on my evening newscast, but it was great insight, from George's great questions to the President."
As trivial as Twittering may sound, it underscores the lengths to which broadcast journalists — and political journalists in particular — are trying to stay on top of technology at a time when no one really has come up with a right way forward. There certainly was no magic formula on offer at the USC event, which was sponsored by the Norman Lear Center and also honored a handful of local stations and "NOW on PBS" for their political coverage.
CBS News has made a big investment in Couric Webcasts, allowing for extended interviews and commentary. But as was pointed out, many more people watched Couric's interviews with Sarah Palin on YouTube and online (or "Saturday Night Live," as Couric and her exec producer Rick Kaplan quipped) than watched the actual "CBS Evening News" broadcast. It was great promotional value for Couric, but it's also all those many more people who weren't watching the ads.
The Norman Lear Center's Martin Kaplan cautioned Couric and other panelists that they can't dismiss the work of independent bloggers just because they don't have a brand name behind him or her.
"It doesn't mean they don't have something totally useful to bring to the party," he said.
Couric responded, "I totally agree with that, but I think that for every one of those well informed, well-educated bloggers, there is someone spouting vitriol and opinion without portfolio, and it is misleading and his or her assertions and it doesn't have the background to necessarily inform, doesn't have any editors, doesn't have anyone holding their feet to the fire to say, "Is this factual? Is this true? Did you second source this?'
"Obviously there are some very smart, useful bloggers, but I don't know about you, I read the comments section on Internet sites and I am absolutely appalled by the level of ignorance. These are the kinds of letters that secretaries used to get in newsrooms and throw in circular files because they were complete lunatics. And now they live on in perpetuity, because they have a forum, and I think some of that is really damaging to civil discourse and our ability to have a civil conversation about certain issues."