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As the gap widens between newsrooms and boardrooms, how can journalists in large media organizations stand up to pressure from above to not push hard on stories?
Rather: The first thing, and I include myself in this criticism, is that it's increasingly hard for people in news to have any access to the top leaders of the giant corporations. But I think you have to work hard at it...In today's mega-corporation, I think those at the top in the news divisions--the anchor, the managing editor and the presidents of the news divisions--need to work harder to explain to the very top what it is we do, why we do it...It is important to have a news operation that is known for independence and backs the independence of the division and the reporters. It has to be a stronger line of communicable trust between the leadership and the newsroom.
Good journalism, great journalism, starts with owners who have guts. So if you give them a reason why it's in the company's interest, never mind the country's interest, to do it, that's one reason. And the other is to stand up for good reporting when it's necessary, when the heat comes down, to back reporters, and to back investigative reporting. And the most insidious part to me, the part that needs sunlight put to it, is the need of the larger corporation to get legislation passed (that helps corporations that own media companies), or get legislation stopped (that harms corporations that own media companies). This frequently comes in conflict with particularly hard-digging investigative reporting. The public needs to know that.
What's your take on Net neutrality?
Rather: Neutrality is an emotionally charged word for the Internet. I'm not an expert, but I believe in equality all the way around. If someone's going to have high speed, then everybody ought to have access to high speed. I recognize that there's an argument the other way, that you can't have it for everybody, but I just don't buy that argument. To me, it's akin to saying, "Well, there's this new invention called the telephone, and only a few people should be allowed to have it, because everybody can't have it at once."
What other regulatory issues do you think are important for ensuring continuing freedom of distribution of content on the Internet?
Rather: I'm very wary of anything that smacks of government censorship or regulation. Having said that, our system of government in this society depends very heavily on individual responsibility, individual outlets, private ownership and having a sense of public responsibility...If there's no self-discipline with whatever the new technology is, whatever the new practices are, if they're not acting in the public interest, and particularly if they act against the public interest--smearing their neighbor or trying to undercut their business competitor unethically--that will lead to increased government regulation, as it has before.
It has been a long time since anyone has called me an idealist. But I consider myself one. Ideally, (the answer) would be self-discipline. I don't like the word regulation, and the way (to go) is to expose those who are using it for nefarious purposes. But if it isn't self-discipline, and if the marketplace doesn't (adapt) fairly quickly, in each succeeding progression of technology, then you will have voices saying the government definitely needs to step in and put in a new set of regulations. The less of that the better.
Rather: We saw it with newspapers, when newspapers were dominant. We saw it with radio to a degree when radio became a competitor to and supplemental to newspapers. Certainly we've seen it in television. There's nothing wrong with a corporation being big in and of itself, but if we aren't careful, there's always the tendency to become monopolistic, whether the leaders of the business intended to be so or not.
I consider the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt to be one of the great American presidencies, perhaps not right there with Washington and Lincoln, but right behind it, because as a Republican, mind you, he saw the dangers of trusts, monopolies and the great syndicates. So I think attention must be paid as the larger some companies you name become; do they choke off competition? If they reach that point of monopoly or something near that, attention must be paid.
I think there's always greed, not only for money, but for power, or to control the marketplace. It's inevitable when companies reach a certain stage. Up to a certain point, not only is it OK, but it's good. But particularly when it stifles innovation and creativity, the creation of new businesses and new jobs, that's when we have to watch it.
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