Snapshots: David Halberstam

Snapshots: David Halberstam

Serpick, Evan

Brief portraits of five New York media figures, developed out of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s “New York media elite” class and written by students in the class

‘There’s been an adaptation to what sells, to what the market is’

Twenty-two years ago, in The Powers That Be, David Halberstam wrote about the role of the national media as the primary shapers of national thought. He chronicled the rise and reign of media pillars like The Washington Post and Time magazine, tracing the parallel destinies of these powerful giants and that of the nation. Along the way he urged the press to be more responsible in its role as a power player in the arena of public policy.

Today, with a few companies dominating the media landscape, Halberstam’s insights read like visionary text. Surveying today’s media landscape, the veteran writer says, “I think to the degree that there’s been a decline in the profession, it’s due to a change of values:’ adding, “Throughout much of the media, there’s been a far greater process of accommodation to values that ten years ago, twenty years ago, would’ve been considered frivolous.

“Some editors out in rural America would claim their readers and viewers didn’t care about Vietnam, they only cared about the price of corn or the interest rates. And the New York editors could say, quite accurately, that they should care about Vietnam and that soon enough they would care. So those news judgments were based on high professionalism and agreed– upon standards.

“I think that era is largely gone,” Halberstam says. “The media world is much more fragmented now. Power has passed from print to television and the television values have changed it all quite dramatically. The values now evident – especially in what are called the news magazines – are not especially New York values; if anything they’re Hollywood values, so whether the executive producers live in New York or L.A. makes no difference.”

-Evan Serpick

Copyright Columbia University, Graduate School of Journalism Mar/Apr 2001

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