The 44th Annual Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture

Inclusivity and innovation were the themes of the lecture given by Professor and Director of USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism, Geneva Overholser. The talk was given Monday Feb. 13 for the 44th annual Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture. The highly accomplished journalist has won a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service during her seven year editorial position at The Des Moines Register. She has also been ombudsman of the Washington Post and on the editorial board of the New York Times. This was her second lecture as a guest speaker for the Hays Press-Enterprise at UCR. Her topic for the lecture was the shakeup of the journalism industry in light of the emerging online media. With older generations perhaps feeling the effects of this quickly changing world, Overholser reminded listeners, “For students today, it is the good old days.”

Introductions were given by Professor of Creative Writing Tom Lutz, President and CEO of The Press-Enterprise Co. Ronald R. Redfern and Chancellor Timothy White. Each spoke in recollect of the recently deceased Tom Hays—editor, owner and publisher of The Press-Enterprise of Riverside, California who began the lecture series. Members of the Hays family were also in the audience. Ronald R. Redfern noted that in 1992, the last time Geneva Overholser came to speak, it was during the “golden years for newspapers,” and that she has retained interest in journalism since. In addition, Chancellor White noted the significance of the lecture by saying, “It makes us think deeply about society, as well as about institutions that serve society.”

Once Overholser took center stage, she explained that developments promise an “inclusive, engaged democracy.” She went on to say that everything in journalism has become a collaborative effort rather than the earlier techniques of getting the story first and taking credit for it. “We [journalists] were the gatekeeper,” said Overholser, “Now the fence is down and it’s a participatory world.” Thus, the world has become more inclusive. Through technological advances, there is accessibility and opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard. The abundance of voices is an immense opportunity for journalism to operate alongside the new public.

Rather than continue to ask the same questions about how to save the newspapers, Overholser observed that innovation is key to the success of journalism in the future. She concluded that the primary reasons for putting the press and public at odds were traditions and arrogance. In other words, traditions had outlived their purpose and journalists had awarded too much importance to their own voice. Thus, the industry became cut off from its customers. “We have got to start the conversation in a different place,” Overholser said. “What is it that the public needs to know?” As it is now, the journalists and community have merged into one thing without discipline, focus, and it is overwhelming. Regardless, Overholser noted that because of social networks, twitter, blogs, etc. there is an opportunity for civil dialogue now that did not exist before.

With an optimistic view of what the future holds for journalism, Overholser was animated and direct. She concluded that technology, the nature of interaction with the new technology, journalists’ response to innovation and the public would determine the future of journalism. She reassured the audience that this form fitting is not a change of principle and that journalists will continue to establish significant issues and make sense of them. The approach will merely be different. “We need a shared awareness,” she said. “For this, we need journalism.”

Once her speech concluded, the floor was opened to questions from audience members. Overholser offered words of encouragement to prospective journalists stressing the importance of writing continuously. She also noted that we are at the beginning of a revolution. It is her hope that the public will tire of the “cacophony,” so that solid news sources like the New York Times and National Public Radio will find the opportunity to survive. By the end of the evening Overholser had covered, step by step, her view on the changes journalists must make to be effective in the future—and she feels that future will be bright.

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