Journalists advise graduates at commencement speeches

So far, spring speeches at academic institutions have told students to consider a major other than journalism (newspapers are "dreary"), and that "Most people’s voices are not worth being heard."

Now it's graduation time, and media types are back at the nation's podia, though not at Barnard College today, where President Obama speaks after bumping New York Times editor Jill Abramson.

Time Managing Editor Rick Stengel told Butler University's graduating class Saturday:

Information doesn’t want to be free; people want free information. And we’ve trained people to expect free information – but you know, you get what you pay for. A comment on a blog is free. But you will have to pay for the insight of a Joe Klein or a Fareed Zakaria, for there is a deep investment that has been made in their experience, their talent, their contacts, their perspective. That’s worth a lot. Information feels like it’s free because it comes to you in a frictionless way with a click on your keyboard. But the information – the knowledge you get from a TIME story about the Middle East -- comes at the cost of keeping correspondents in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan and Jerusalem.

Zakaria, meanwhile, was at Duke University, where he told chair-fillers "this is an extraordinary world [and] country you're coming into," mentioning mobile devices as evidence, "which some of you are looking at right now, and don't think I don't see you."

Ted Koppel cast a skeptical eye toward Twitter and told University of Massachusetts at Amherst grads that journalism is moving too fast: "We are making and receiving endless observations about the trivial, and believe that we are communicating. I am left with a feeling of not just great opportunities missed, but with a sense of actual danger to our republic."

Maria Shriver addressed the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism's commencement Friday and said students should think about what kind of day they want to win:

“It’s up to you to decide if you want to pass on garbage, or if you want to check the facts,” Shriver said. “Pause before you hit the send button and forward a picture that could ruin somebody’s life. Pause before you write something nasty on somebody’s wall because you think it’s funny. Believe me, it isn’t.”

There are more: Michael Bloomberg, a media honcho who happens to be mayor of New York City, told University of North Carolina Chapel Hill graduates to illuminate the world's dark corners: "The more light we shed on the nature of the world, the more we advance knowledge in science and technology, the more liberty we will spread."

Gwen Ifill also picked up that torch, so to speak: "The world is often still resistant to change, but you have a flashlight that Holy Names has given you, and you can shine that light," she told Holy Names University. Something I wouldn't mind seeing a little illumination on: Whatever it was that caused Oakland Tribune columnist Tammerlin Drummond to write, "It's a shame that a number of the students had no idea who Ifill was nor how fortunate they were to have someone of her caliber."

Connie Schultz and her husband, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, gave a flat-capper at Hiram College. Schultz, who left the Plain Dealer last year but is still writing a syndicated column and essays for Parade, told students there, "how we treat the people we’re allowed to mistreat is the measure of our lives.”

Outgoing Associated Press head Tom Curley told American University School of Communications graduates that he would "divert for just a second from the positive script of commencement addresses":

"Life is messy, and sometimes it's downright miserable. ... Newspapers, to pick on my heritage, have lost half their revenues just since you entered this university. ... But there is an upside, and it's the one you must embrace. The number of people, for instance, having access to solid news, not statist propaganda, has doubled since you entered high school. The number of news items accessed on a given day has grown manyfold."

He later said the grads would create a new media world: "We're hoping some of you do so well you can afford to hire a few of us older people."

What IS it with all the journalists? George Will told Dan O'Brien TV journalists reflected the media diets of college poobahs, not students: “The people who pick these speakers are often in the administration, and to them, TV news is a big deal. But to today’s 21- and 22-year-olds, they don’t watch TV. Ask (them) to name the anchors of the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts and they’d say, ‘What’s the evening news?’ ”

Not to mention how in the heck any of this advice is going to help them pay back student loans.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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