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Tom Brokaw talks new media with ASMSU Exponent editor

NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw.
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Last week, former NBC Nightly News anchorman Tom Brokaw was in town to accept an honorary doctorate from MSU, and he took the opportunity to speak with the editor of the ASMSU Exponent about the state and future of journalism.

Of note:

“The Internet is a game-changer,” [Brokaw] said, pointing to the recent revolutions in Egypt and Libya, where social media have been used to communicate information and ideas. “Now, with a keystroke, you can organize people in distant lands,” he said, adding that groups in the U.S. such as the Tea Party have begun largely as online movements.

Really? It’s 2011. Saying the Internet is a game-changer now is like telling the survivors of Hiroshima that the atom bomb is going to lead to a new era of peace for all mankind.

Mr. Brokaw, the Internet — and by Internet I think you mean the World Wide Web — was a game-changer back in 2000 or even earlier. The game has already changed, like it or not.

Of course, I’m picking on one quote, and I’m sure that doesn’t capture the totality of what Brokaw talked about. In fact, in a clip from a 2008 interview with Charlie Rose, Brokaw says he likes the fact that there are more people finding their voices and entering into political discourse, and he compares new media to the pamphleteers of Thomas Paine’s day. However, Brokaw also had some serious worries about blog writers looking only for “gotcha” moments and eschewing deep discussions because they are too young to have enough experience to have deep discussions.

The newsman expressed similar thoughts in a May 2009 speech before the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. (See the video embedded to the right.) The Minnesota Independent, reporting on the speech, said that Brokaw was concerned that most of the social change wrought by journalism in the 20th century couldn’t happen in a world where Twitter drives journalism.

Brokaw’s speech moved from nostalgia for the newsgathering of old to an indictment of new media today. Would civil rights advances, Vietnam protests, or Nixon’s downfall have happened, wondered Brokaw, “were any of these events left to the bloggers or people who Twitter?”

It’s a good question that I’m not going to discuss now.

I will say this: It was the opportunity of a lifetime for Exponent editor Eric Dietrich to get to interview Brokaw one-on-one while members of all the other Bozeman media outlets sat in the audience drooling and taking notes — including the Chronicle’s reporter (our coverage). Read the Exponent’s write up and then take some of Brokaw’s advice about vetting your news sources — including Brokaw — to heart.