SxSW: Dan Rather Keynote

by Luke Wroblewski March 12, 2007

Former CBS anchorman, Dan Rather, was interviewed on stage at South by Southwest 2007 and discussed the state of journalism today.

  • Never made mistake of not being proud to be at the White House. Thought of himself as a surrogate of the people: an honest broker of information.
  • In the last five years, American journalism has lost its guts. In many cases have adopted policies of “go along to get along”.
  • Patriotic journalists ask tough questions and follow up on them. Checks and balances of power. Journalism needs a spine transplant.
  • Integrity has been traded for access. If you get too close to the source, you become part of the problem.
  • Journalists use sources and sources use journalists. When the source believes the journalist can be pulled into the team and when the reporter feels part of the team, the relationship has gone too far.
  • You are only as good as your sources. If you have a broad reservoir of sources, it’s harder to get tied in.
  • If you are not close to your sources, it is harder to get information but the information you get may be more valuable.
  • Fierce independence is necessary in journalism.
  • As corporations get larger, the gap between the head of the corporation and the news group gets bigger. Other interests of corporations get in the way of news but they don’t get rid of news groups because they need access to Washington legislation.
  • No more than 4-5 companies control the principal means of information distribution outside the Web. They want less competition instead of more.
  • Journalists are watchdogs. Not lap dogs nor attack dogs.
  • Internet is a tremendous tool for news, information, and education (illumination). Its potential is unlimited. We are past the Elvis stage of the Internet and into the Beatles stage.
  • There is a problem with anonymity in blogs. No accountability for things put online as there is no identity behind ideas.
  • Direct language might be preferable to the sideways dance that most journalists do these days.
  • The old rules of record: on what basis are we talking? On the record, background, deep background (must source it far away), or off the record. Off the record used to mean “you can’t use this”, this conversation did not happen. Used to start conversation with assumption that it is on the record.
  • What are the new rules of record?