For Anthony Lewis, Saving Lives Was Part of Getting the Story

Inspirational Journalism Rare in Age of the Tweet and Blog

Anthony Lewis was an icon of journalism who still believed in the value of a complete story. He knew the power of the written word to save lives, from the Balkans to the Middle East to right here at home.
getty images
Anthony Lewis was an icon of journalism who still believed in the value of a complete story. He knew the power of the written word to save lives, from the Balkans to the Middle East to right here at home.

By David Rohde

Published March 29, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

Andrew Beaujon, a media reporter for Poynter, wrote last week about a Washington Post job posting for a Style section blogger who would be required to post at least twelve times a day. Last year, Patrick Pexton, then the paper’s ombudsman, warned against “high volume, low oversight” blogging after Elizabeth Flock resigned from her blogging postition after failing to credit another news source in aggregated pieces. When Pexton interviewed the paper’s young bloggers, he found deep discontent.

“They said that they felt as if they were out there alone in digital land, under high pressure to get Web hits, with no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing,” Pexton wrote. “Guidelines for aggregating stories are almost nonexistent, they said. And they believe that, even if they do a good job, there is no path forward. Will they one day graduate to a beat, covering a crime scene, a city council or a school board? They didn’t know. So some left; others are thinking of quitting.”

Twelve posts a day is unfair to young journalists and a business practice that is unlikely to produce the next Lewis. Even a young Lewis, I suspect, would have struggled to produce a dozen meaningful posts a day.

Many disagree with me. In a column last week, Matthew Yglesias of Slate questioned the sky is falling tone of the Pew report and declared that the “American news media has never been in better shape.”

“Pew’s overview makes no mention of the Web’s speed, range and depth,” he wrote, “or indeed any mention at all of audience access to information as an important indicator of the health of journalism.”

In some ways, Yglesias is right. More information than ever is at the fingertips of news consumers. But the problem is that many Americans simply don’t have the time to search the Web for story after story, as Yglesias did, about the banking crisis in Cyprus. They have time for one clear piece that quickly and accurately tells them why Cyprus matters.

The digital age has enormous advantages, as Yglesias argues. Journalism is more democratic than ever. Anyone anywhere can report anytime. Twitter can be a fantastic news source - a running wire of stories and tips from people who share my interests. Skilled bloggers possess an extraordinary ability to review vast amounts of news coverage, instantly discern its importance and immediately offer an original take.

But the tyranny of speed and volume can limit a journalist’s ability to do such basic tasks as conducting phone interviews with those they are writing about, or traveling to the community affected by an event, or slowly gaining the trust of a source or whistleblower in face-to-face meetings. Those steps are not always necessary for quality journalism, but they certainly help. Maybe editors should formally declare blogging and traditional reporting equally valuable but different jobs. Or news organizations should become non-profits.

Lewis’ masterful legal writing was the product of time. Over many years, he developed a sophisticated understanding of the law, an encyclopedic knowledge of the Supreme Court and close personal relationships with justices. Felix Frankfurter famously said that Lewis knew the cases before the Supreme Court better than most of its judges.

In the end, I’ll take Lewis-like context and depth over high volume and speed. I thank Lewis for championing journalism.

David Rohde is a Reuters columnist but his opinions are his own.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.