By Christopher Pickhardt
Last night I had a wonderful experience at my Alma mater, William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey (which I graduated from in 2002 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications). Along with several other alumni, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend a lecture and discussion with “60 Minutes” broadcast journalist and co-editor Lesley Stahl, as part of William Paterson’s annual Distinguished Lecturer Series.
This was a very interesting and engaging lecture, which was preceded by a dinner with the Dean and other William Paterson faculty and administrative staff. Ms. Stahl’s lively lecture covered her long and varied career at CBS which began right as the Watergate scandal was breaking and also covered the challenges of being a female journalist in a mostly male-dominated field in the 70’s and concluded with her respected contributions to “60 Minutes,” where she still contributes today. There were some fascinating tidbits, immensely useful advice for students and a terrific Q&A afterwards, where Ms. Stahl shared that she is in the midst of completing a new book which will chronicle her life as a grandparent.
I think the most interesting topic for me was the evolution of journalism from its print heyday to the fast-paced digital realm it is vastly residing in today. Ms. Stahl’s lecture really made an impact on me and enticed deep reflection about the media era of today. In the age of the internet, where any and all information is only a fingertip away, we tend to forget how far “information” has come. It is almost alien to imagine a time where news traveled slowly via countless local and nation newspapers, from telegrams and wires and largely from mouth-to-mouth. We tend to take for granted how much work and effort was put into researching a story and checking the facts in advance of an impending print deadline. Today with the click of a button one can find just about any information they want on the world wide web, written by God knows who and often without the smallest hint of credibility. Of course the major news outlets still follow traditional journalistic guidelines as they manage their internet counterparts, but they are but a fraction of the news-gathering entities online today in the wild, wild west of the world wide web.
The Information Age is a double-edged sword at best and an abomination to fact-based education at its worst and it is up to us individuals now to do the fact-checking, because with the onslaught of content and the enchanting power of advertising dollars, domains are pumping out legions of “click-bait” articles designed to allegedly increase their readership (with eye-catching headlines) and in turn attract the coveted revenue dollars instead of focusing on putting out actual information. In many cases sadly, MISINFORMATION is the law of the land, as readers flock to get their fix of slanted and or distorted versions of stories that may or may not align with the actual facts of the day and usually just serve to feverishly stir the pot of whatever the topic of the day happens to be. More than ever before, readers must be vigilant and shrewd when seeking news and lean on skepticism until proven otherwise. In other words, question everything. Which in a way, is kind of what journalism is all about. The tough questions are usually the right ones to ask. Yes, it was truly a memorable evening and one I was honored to be a part of.
One unexpected bonus from this grand evening occurred during a conversation I had with the head of alumni relations – whom after hearing a brief synopsis of my experience and achievements since graduation, asked me to participate in an upcoming alumni panel discussion where we would share our accomplishments with current students, answer questions and flesh out how we incorporated our educations at William Paterson into our careers. Having participated in a similar event in the past on two separate occasions at another local college [where I co-taught a workshop on independent film-making], I was eager to be a part of it.
I always enjoy public speaking and anyone who knows me is aware that I am not exactly an introvert. I have always been comfortable talking in front of people and love inspiring others with my world view or past experiences – which is always thrilling, especially if they can occur in the same discussion.
You may see the University’s official event page below: