2004 Scholarship Luncheon with Mark Whitaker, Newsweek
January 23, 2004
Today’s foreign correspondents are different from the ones Mark Whitaker first encountered when he began his career almost 30 years ago. Instead of the cowboy types who were as well known for entertaining their peers with colorful tales at the local watering hole as for their reporting skills, the Editor editor of Newsweek described today’s incoming reporters as more serious, more academically inclined, and better trained – a positive direction for the future of journalism and just as necessary as news organizations, like his own, adapt to an increasingly complex media environment. In a captivating keynote address at the OPC Foundation’s Scholarship Luncheon at the Yale Club on January 23, 2004, Whitaker spoke eloquently of the three telling characteristics that define today’s evolving media climate: relentless competition, complex world issues like terrorism and globalization that defy simple analysis, and public skepticism about the press.
As for how a journalist navigates these turbulent waters, Whitaker explained how Newsweek made the calculated decision to abandon that segment of the public who had little time for news -- once the mainstay of national weekly news magazines -- and to focus instead on news junkies. “The challenge,” he noted “is to make it work for an audience of three million.” For him, that means longer, in-depth articles and more opinion pieces. “We don’t pretend to be objective, but we seek to be unpredictable,” he said.
Before the audience of 200, he advised, “If you’re reporting leads you to a conclusion, do not be afraid to reach a conclusion – as long as long as you back it up with solid reporting.” Problems, he noted, occur when reporters start with a conclusion then search for or stretch the facts to support it. Moreover, he’s concerned with people who rely on sources of news that make no pretense of exposing them to opposing points of view. “I’m not sure we change that,” he added, “I’m not sure everyone wants to hear both sides.”
The challenge to seek out and accept the risks involved in good journalism especially resonated with the twelve 2004 OPC Foundation Scholarship winners who had just accepted their awards from various family members and close friends of those in whose names the scholarships are given. New this year was the Flora Lewis Scholarship, presented by her son Lindsey Gruson, who spoke movingly of how much this award would have meant to his mother, the long-time Paris Bureau Chief of the New York Times. Besides a check for $2,000, the recipients also received a year free membership in the Overseas Press Club. The group toured AP in the morning before the luncheon and Reuters in the afternoon.
As master of ceremonies, Bill Holstein, OPC Foundation president, articulated the purpose of the scholarships as well as the Foundation’s mission. Recognizing that American news organizations have cut back on their networks of foreign correspondents, he noted, “it is incumbent upon us, those who care about what Americans know about the world, that we identify the best and the brightest of the next generation of correspondents, and attempt to give them the incentives and the tools to go out into the world.”
The 2004 winners, ten graduate students and two undergraduate students, were selected from a pool of more than 200 applicants from 60 different colleges and universities. While the ten graduate students are now part of the graduate programs at the University of California at Berkeley, New York University, Columbia University and Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, they all received their undergraduate degrees from different schools. This year’s undergraduate winners are seniors at the University of Tennessee/Knoxville and Yale University.