By Alex Zielinski
Philip Meyer doesn’t like to tell people what they want to hear.
Keynote speaker at Tuesday’s annual University Ruhl Lecture, veteran journalist Meyer told the audience that his core purpose of reporting was to educate the public.
“The point of news in a democracy is not to reinforce attitudes we already have,” said Meyer, now a professor emeritus at UNC Chapel Hill.
Meyer’s lecture, titled “When Everybody’s a Journalist, Who Will Make the Rules?” shone a light on a topic that both frightens and stupefies journalists: the future.
With over 20 years of experience within the newspaper field, Meyer used past encounters to reflect on current questions, but admitted that he, too, was unsure of what the future of media holds.
“The journalist of the future will be self-defined,” said Meyer. “If everyone is a journalist in the future, we no longer need to define journalism.”
This realization sent concerned murmurs through a crowd heavy with students pursuing journalism.
“It’s an unsettling idea,” said sophomore Danielle Dunn after the lecture. “If everyone is a journalist, there will no longer be a demand for journalism.”
However, Meyer added that the “old-timers” in newsrooms are quaking in their boots when young, up-to-date journalists join the staff.
A contributor to USA Today, Meyer stressed the importance of not counting on news publications of the past, like his employer.
“Professionalism is being weakened,” said Meyer. “Accountability is the hallmark of a profession, which journalists are forgetting.”
According to Meyer, reporters always end up complicating the simple rule of telling the truth and getting the facts straight. He alluded to an occasion where an editor gave Meyer a false title in print, and refused to change it even after realizing the error.
“Contrary to police work, a cover up in journalistic writing is not worse than the crime itself,” said Meyer. “Just get the dang error out of there!”
Meyer supported the Society of Professional Journalists’ basic rules on ethics throughout his lecture, while adding that “every rule has a misbehavior behind it.”
Greg Kerber , academic adviser for the SOJC, called Meyer a “brilliant man.”
“I just hope the students listen to what he’s saying,” said Kerber. “I know that most students in our school are investing in making the world a better place than just making money.”
While sharing his belief on the current state of journalism, Meyer ultimately passed the task of defining the future of his field to the attending students.
“We still need a way to keep order in a free-flowing media system,” said Meyer. “Ideas are changing every day. But who knows the answer. All you need to do is wait.”