The 10th annual Lewis B. O’Donnell Media Summit focused on the new age of information and how new sources affect how people gather their news.
Louis A. Borrelli Jr., who graduated from Oswego State in 1977, created the media summit in 2005. It was later renamed after the beloved professor Lewis B. O’Donnell when Al Roker, class of 1976, donated to commemorate the late professor, also known as “Doc.” Ten years later, the event has grown into a daylong event bringing numerous professionals in the field of communications into classrooms.
To mark the decade since the first summit, a star-studded panel was invited to Oswego State. Moderating the discussion was Ken Auletta, a reporter with The New Yorker magazine since the early 1990s, who has written 11 books. Auletta, class of 1963, returned as moderator since being tasked with the same duties in the first media summit in 2005.
Before the panel discussion, Auletta hinted at some of the positives and negatives of a digital age in the media.
“What the Internet has done is deputized citizens to be journalists,” Auletta said. “Our challenge as journalists is to make sure it is accurate information and pictures that are not doctored in any way, but it just expands the reach and a picture is really provocative and haunting and that’s one of the real positive things of the digital revolution.”
Auletta mentioned how the rapid flow of news has also hurt media in that it has caused organizations to fall behind and lose business, resulting in closed doors.
Joining Auletta was award-winning journalist Charlie Rose, who is the anchor and executive director of the Public Broadcasting Service show named after himself. He is also the co-anchor of “CBS This Morning” and won a Peabody Award in 2013. Rose said that while new media has changed, the way information is delivered and the core values still remain.
“I’m one of those who believe strongly that new media has enabled us, A, to do our job better, B, it gives us a whole different series of his show on The Weather Channel, “Wake Up with Al,” as well as segments for “Today” inside the Marano Campus Center beginning at 5:30 a.m. Students crammed into the Campus Center in hopes of making it on the national broadcast. Free T-shirts were provided to the early-rising students.
Connie Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2005 and a nationally syndicated columnist from Cleveland, Ohio joined the panel as well. Schultz chronicled the story of Michael Green who was imprisoned for 13 years for a crime he never committed through a series titled “The Burden of Innocence.”
Schultz has focused on taking advantage of her social media as a journalist to improve the conversations around topics and to better herself.
“One of the things I think social media is really good at is that it closes the distance with your readers and, for me, the more prominent you become, the more easily you can become isolated from the people you are trying to reach, and I really want to counter that in every way that I can,” Schultz said. “But also I learn from reader interaction; I learn what’s on their minds.”
Dennis Thatcher, also from Cleveland, Ohio, is the president and chief operating officer of Mission Broadcasting Inc. Thatcher brought knowledge of the business side of media, providing insight about the money behind the reporting.
Rose was honored by SUNY with an honorary degree, a Doctor of Humane Letters in a ceremony immediately before the panel discussion.
“I’m deeply honored to accept this,” Rose said.
He later recalled Auletta inviting him to come to campus for the event in addition to accepting the honorary degree. Rose discussed how his curiosity began at a young age and helped shape him into the journalist he has become.
“I just want you to know that, for me, coming here today to be part of your history is a great honor for me and I thank you very much for allowing me to take this time, and I look forward to the symposium that we will have that Ken has been doing for the last 10 years,” Rose said.
Auletta chose the topic of whether or not the digital age is a blessing, curse or both.
Schultz discussed how she originally thought of it as a curse after reading the comment sections of her articles. She dealt with bitter comments attacking her for what she was writing.
“When we talk about digital media, one of the advantages is that it gives us the ability to directly engage with readers,” Schultz said. “I really don’t understand any journalist today not wanting to do that, because if you still love reporting, which I do, there is so much to learn from interacting with the people you are trying to reach.”
Schultz told the audience how she sparks civil conversations on her Facebook page about topics she writes about. She also said she uses social media as a way to drive readers to other journalists.
“For me, it’s become a way to merge my personal and my public life because I do have some confounding relationship with being married to a United States Senator and also being a syndicated columnist,” Schultz said. The Pulitzer Prize winner said that social media helps her “correct misperceptions very quickly.”
Schultz also said she learns about what is on the readers’ minds from her interactions on social media.
The crowd erupted when Schultz made a poignant point about what people say in response to her columns online.
“I’ve been a columnist for 12 years, my home address is public, I get a lot of hate mail and I’m still standing, and I want us to make sure we keep a sense of balance about this,” Schultz said. “There is a lot of misogyny out there, but as I said on Steve Kornacki’s show recently on MSNBC; the minute they go after my age, my weight or my gender, I win, because they had no argument of sustenance to counter mine.”
Topics ranged from the death of newspapers to how broadcasting is adapting to other online competitors. Schultz also pointed out how there are less reporters covering governments across the country, almost in a watchdog capacity. She added that more female and minority reporters should become involved with covering politics to make sure the right questions are being asked.
While the panel was discussing how younger generations are growing up with technology almost glued to their fingertips, Roker shared that he and his daughters use their own personal stationary to write thank you letters by hand. Rose mentioned how people at restaurants are often seen locked into their phones rather than engaging in conversation with one another. Schultz added how people who always have their ear buds in can easily miss the most interesting stories because they are ignoring what is going on around them.
“One of the things that the digital world arms us with is the ability to engage who is reading or watching what,” Auletta said. “One of the things you find in the print world is that more people are interested in Kim Kardashian than they are in what is going on in Albany.”
This led to a discussion as to how the news is shared with the audience and Rose said the ability to tell a story in an interesting way needs to be emphasized. Schultz questioned if being better informed was part of being a citizen.
Following the discussion, Roker and Oswego State President Deborah F. Stanley honored Borrelli with the SUNY Oswego Presidential Medal.
“Lou has given us a new perspective on our hands on, minds on learning that takes place on this campus,” Stanley said. “He really understands the concept and is helpful for students the moment they step onto campus until and beyond when they leave campus.”
Roker said a few words before his long-time pal Borrelli was honored with the medal.
“So many of these students have a richer experience because of you,” Roker said. “Without you, this wonderful summit might have started, but I don’t think it would have the depth or breadth that it has.”
Roker continued that he saw no one more fit to receive the award.
“I think that this medal and that this award could only go to Lou Borrelli,” Roker said.