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The Media's Ancien Régime

Hugh Hewitt

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Columbia Journalism School tries to save the old order.

To enter Columbia University's graduate school of journalism is to enter the highest temple of a religion in decline. A statue of Thomas Jefferson guards the plaza outside the doors, and the entry room is suitably grand. Two raised platforms proclaim the missions in bold gold letters: "To Uphold Standards of Excellence in Journalism" and "To Educate the Next Generation of Journalists." The marble floor tells you that the school was endowed by Joseph Pulitzer and erected in 1912 in memory of his daughter Lucille. A bronze quotation from Pulitzer's 1904 cri de coeur in the North American Review is on the wall:

Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve the public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself . . .

There is a new high priest in the dean's office on the seventh floor--Nicholas Lemann, veteran writer for the New Yorker, and before that the national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, where he spent 15 years after stints at the Texas Monthly, the Washington Post, and the Washington Monthly. Lemann began his scribbling for a New Orleans alternative weekly, the Vieux Carré Courier, while still a high school student, covering everything from boxing to city hall to the private school network of the region. Upon entering Harvard in 1972, he immediately "comped" for the Crimson, only to be rejected in his application to join the editorial board of the greatest brand in undergraduate newspapers. "Harvard is filled with this sort of humiliation," Lemann told me in a conversation last fall that capped a two-day visit to the school. He reapplied for a position as a reporter, and the second time was successful, rising through the ranks to become the paper's president in the 1975-76 academic year. Now 51 and two years into a new career, Lemann will need the same persistence if his legacy as dean is to be something other than a footnote in the history of the decline of American media power.

Read the entire article on the Weekly Standard website (new window will open).

Posted: 01-Feb-06



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