Editor and Senior Vice President of USA Today and usatoday.com Ken Paulson spoke at the Ferst Center on Wednesday as a continuation of the Finding Common Ground series. His speech, “Rebooting America: News for a New Generation,” addressed the current issues facing the press today and how students can make an impact on the media industry.
As a part of the series, whose inaugural speaker last year was Maya Angelou, Paulson was invited to encourage thought and discussion among Tech students on topics regarding First Amendment rights and today’s press.
“We thought that his work, in terms of what he deals with on a daily basis and the kinds of decisions he needs to make about what he wants to place out there for the general public to know about… fit within the overall mission of Finding Common Ground,” said John Stein, dean of students.
Before presenting his speech to an audience of several hundred students and faculty members, Paulson met with members of various student publications. During this time, he fielded questions from students and discussed his opinion on the technological potentials and future of news media.
“I always enjoy the experience of [speaking at college campuses]. It helps me keep in touch with a new generation,” Paulson said.
His confidence in the impact of students on the press could be found throughout his speech. He referred several times to the impact of this generation on the music industry, alluding to the fact that it could also revolutionize news media and journalism.
“I think this is a particularly interesting generation that can make a difference. We live in a time when there’s an extensive array of choices in terms of news and information, and this generation can help shape that in a very positive way, ” Paulson said
Following introductions by Anu Parvatiyar, undergraduate student body president, and Institute President Wayne Clough, Paulson began his lecture with a short explanation of his passion for news, reflecting on his logic that if he couldn’t be a superhero like Superman, journalist Clark Kent must be the next best thing.
He established the differences in today’s news landscape and that of the Golden Age, highlighted in movies like Deadline USA. He went on to discuss failures of the current press and societal issues that have made trustworthy journalism seemingly scarce.
“We live in a time when people take the First Amendment for granted, and they have a negative impression of free press. So often we forget that the job of the press is to look out for the public. The public forgets that, and too often the press forgets that,” Paulson said.
He gave a brief history of the creation of the press, mentioning that it was originally established to keep tabs on the government at the beginning of our country.
A large part of Paulson’s speech centered around what steps could be taken to remove discrepancies between expectations of the press and the actual news with which the public is presented.
He suggested that “if we settle for ‘Journalism Lite,’ we end up with ‘Democracy Lite,’” and that if students will reject prefabricated and inarticulate work, they can have a positive influence.
After the speech Paulson held a short question and answer session during which both students and faculty came forward with questions about Paulson’s job, his method of decision-making regarding controversial topics and the future of journalism in general.
Paulson has worked as both a journalist and a lawyer and is a former editor of newspapers in five different states. He has also served as Executive Director of the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University.
Finding Common Ground is a student organization created in 2006 whose purpose is to “[initiate] a continuing culture of dialogue to ensure the inclusion of as many voices as possible in discussions of issues that affect both the campus community and society at large.”