Todd Gitlin delivers annual UI journalism lecture


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Young, aspiring journalists filled the seats of the lecture hall expecting to hear an inspiring speech about journalism — instead, students experienced a wake-up call about the problems with mainstream media.

Todd Gitlin, a professor and doctoral-program head at the Columbia School of Journalism, was the speaker for the 2013 McGranahan Lecture on Thursday evening.

Gitlin was a unanimous choice by the faculty at the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communications for the most important speaker of the year, David Perlmutter, the director of the school, said.

“The faculty try to bring in accomplished senior scholars, and Gitlin is sort of a famous researcher and commentator for at least 40 years,” Perlmutter said. “Always in his writing and speeches, he provides exciting and provocative ideas to share with the community.”

Gitlin’s speech, titled “How Journalism Misses the Big Story, But Why We Still Need It,” informed faculty and students about the “golden age” of journalism and how journalists have recently strayed from accuracy and the quality to which they once held themselves. He pointed to the media’s coverage of the Bush vs. Gore election in 2000 as an example of inaccurate reporting.

Gitlin said he believes the journalism industry is deteriorating, and it should be used as a public service.

“Journalism is social insurance and is a public good,” he said.

Media outlets face shrinking newsrooms, and fewer journalists are able to follow up with certain stories, Gitlin said.

“There are dots that are dangling and cannot be connected unless the field of visual is being covered,” he said.

Young journalists attended the lecture after hearing about Gitlin’s fame from their professors. One UI sophomore, Valerie Kooker, said she attended after her teacher called him a “superstar” in journalism.

However, Gitlin said, these issues are not only important to journalists, but to everyone, especially professionals in the making.

“We are living a collective life,” he said. “The topics I’m talking about matter to people regardless of their station in life.”

Gitlin does give advice for journalists in today’s society, encouraging them to work together with each other to create news efficiently and accurately.

“Journalists are obliged to see that people are addressed in a grown-up way, and I think the burden is on journalists as a population,” he said. “Journalists should be collaborating.”

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