On January 27, students, faculty and alumni gathered at the Olin Concert Hall to listen to Distinguished Alumnus in Residence Brian McGrory ’84, an accomplished Bates alumnus and the current editor of The Boston Globe. McGrory delivered a talk, “The State of Journalism in America.”
McGrory served as a Metro columnist, White House correspondent and Metro editor for The Globe. He was presented with the Scripps-Howard Award for commentary and the Sigma Delta Chi award for general column writing in 2011. The Globe was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting in 2014 for its coverage of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, and the newspaper has been a finalist in four other Pulitzer categories over the last two years. Further, McGrory has authored four published novels and a memoir about his family’s pet rooster.
His credentials and list of achievements really say it all, but when the alumnus was asked to reflect on his time at Bates, he reminded all the students in the audience just how lucky they are to attend this school. McGrory explained that, although the buildings have been remodeled, the virtues of Bates have remained the same.
He emphasized that Bates is a welcoming community that allows students to broaden their horizons and pursue a high quality education. In agreement with McGrory, Sarah Douglas ’19 noted, “sometimes you get wrapped up in the tests and club meetings [and] you forget to think about where you are in the spectrum of your education.”
McGrory kept the audience members laughing and interested as he told captivating stories of prominent figures such as Mitt Romney and George W. Bush. Students in the audience attempted to pick the mind of the acclaimed journalist and to learn exactly how he was able to accomplish so much.
McGrory reflected upon his childhood, noting that he had always wanted to be a writer for The Boston Globe. Given his journalistic passions, McGrory could have attended a school with a journalism program. However, he believes that “journalism is about life,” which is why he chose to attend Bates.
Audience members were particularly interested in hearing about the issue of “newspapers on their deathbeds.” This conversation seemed to be a consistent thread throughout the night, as audience members sought for engagement in the crisis. The reasons for this decline are familiar: the abrupt shift from print to pixels, the exponential rise in alternative sources of information, changes in lifestyle and reading habits, and, above all, the disastrous collapse of the city paper’s lifeblood – classified advertising – with the emergence of websites like Craigslist and Gumtree. While there has indeed been an increase in readers of both digital and print, information has been increasingly easier to access, whether credible or not. McGrory informed the audience that, in response, major newspapers have made considerable changes. They’re attempting to combat diminishing reader interest by shortening stories, adding commentary, and most notably, using social media to their advantage.
Despite the prevalence of news media in everyday life, the work opportunities of many journalists has been strained. The quality of information and in depth reporting has produced an influx of attention that is not being reciprocated via payment, thus creating a large and concerning gap in the industry.
When asked his opinion on the newspaper’s future, McGrory responded, “I have no idea.” The newspaper industry has always been cyclical and has climbed out of holes before. Television’s arrival in the 1950s presaged the decline of newspapers’ importance as most people’s source of daily news. The explosion of the internet in the 1990s and in the first decade of the 21st century also increased the panoply of media choices available to the average reader, further cutting into newspapers’ hegemony as the main source of news.
Although these other mediums have acted as competition, McGrory enlightened the audience about the unique role that newspapers play in a community. Loyal readers that have committed their time and money to a paper over time are given the most quality content and information. With the digital and visual medium, news outlets become a game of who has can say the craziest thing and who has the most flamboyant graphics. Newspapers still play a personal role in informing a community and providing contextual information about the world.
“The politics of information has changed throughout time and innovation, but Brian McGrory really showed us tonight how newspapers provide us [with] the quality facts we deserve,” Ryan Whittemore ’19 said.