“Good grief, there must be nothing going on here,” broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw said upon entering the press conference at Sarasota, Fla.’s Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall this past April.
Brokaw was in Sarasota for the final lecture of the Ringling College Library Association’s Town Hall Lecture Series on April 8, 2013, an organization in which I volunteer.
During the press conference the award-winning journalist and best-selling author addressed what he called “positive changes in media.” Technology, social media and the quantity of media outlets have provided, “access to a wider range of information and how fast,” Brokaw said and added, “If you really want to be informed, you’ve got to develop a kind of checklist for yourself of what holds up, what’s credible, what’s useful to you.”
Future of Broadcast Journalism
Will broadcast journalism disappear? Brokaw doesn’t think so saying it “… will always be in place. Obviously the landscape is a lot different from when I began. There were only really two networks then,” and added, “the important thing is there’s a synergy with the new media and that will go on for some time, it’s not going to disappear. Print is going to be reformed in new ways and new forms.”
Of course, I had to ask how he liked Twitter. “I use Twitter sparingly,” he told me.
As for what stands out most in his career, the veteran journalists joked, “That I’m still standing and breathing.”
He continued saying living through and covering the big events of his time stand out but specifically named the assassination of President John F. Kennedy as the most significant. The journalist is working on a documentary for the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination .
He painted a picture of what JFK represented to the American people, since most of us in the room weren’t born during his presidency, describing him as “progressive…youthful…dashing” and then he was suddenly gone.
“It was useful for me as a journalist because I never took anything for granted from that day forward,” Brokaw said.
Since the JFK assassination, Brokaw has covered the big stories of his time, “from the fall of communism to 9/11 to changes in how we get information and how we treat each other,” he said.
“If I had come to this kind of event when I began there would have been no women, it would have been all white males and there would have been two cameras,” Brokaw told members of the Sarasota-area media in reference to the press conference, “That’s a big change.”
What inspires Tom Brokaw to keep going? His job. “It’s the greatest job in the world. I have endless curiosity about the world,” he said and added “there’s no heavy lifting, I don’t have to do trigonometry, these are the reasons I got into journalism in the first place. I still have my health, I love to travel. I get to go interesting places and people are generally pretty kind to me.”
During his lecture, he put the Iraq and Afghanistan wars into perspective.
“The two longest wars in America’s history have been fought in Iraq and Afghanistan by less than one percent of the population,” adding they were/are all volunteers, and many “from working class families and from the impoverished parts of America because they have a sense of patriotism and because they needed a job and looking for training.”
What sacrifices have we made while others volunteered to go to war? Nothing.
“While these wars were under way in the name of our national security, nothing was asked of ourselves. We didn’t pay an extra dime in taxes. We didn’t even have to think about those wars if we didn’t have somebody involved in some fashion and we certainly didn’t have to make any sacrifices at home,” the journalist told the audience.
Sacrifices were commonplace during World War II and Vietnam.
Today, Brokaw said we “live in a comfort zone” sending military personnel to war only to “come home with missing body parts and emotionally damaged or worst of all, in body bags,” and continued, “It’s not just unjust, it’s immoral for the great democratic system like ours to have that. The genius of this country is we’re at our best when we’re more than the sum of our parts when we do find common cause.”
The words he said in that last paragraph really stick with me because he’s so right. If we don’t have someone in these wars, we haven’t made sacrifices.
Our Duty to the Millennial Generation
But, Tom Brokaw offered hope in speaking about the Millennial Generation (born between the early 1980s to early 2000s) we’re raising.
“We’re raising a generation who cares,” he said, they “find comfort in talking to each and sharing ideas. New technology allows them to do that in a political sense.”
Although new technology is revolutionizing communications, Brokaw wants this next generation to have authentic life experiences.
“I don’t want to hear a song, ‘a tweet is just a tweet as time goes by.’ No email will ever replace the first kiss. You can’t hold hands with an iPhone. You wouldn’t ask it to go to the movies with you over dinner,” and added, “Our obligation to the generation coming of age [is] we show them to use technology to advance thoughts.”