William Katz has had a long and varied career, as an assistant to a U.S. senator; an officer in the CIA; an assistant to Herman Kahn, the nuclear war theorist; an editor at the New York Times Magazine; and a talent coordinator at The Tonight Show. He is the author of ten books, translated into 15 languages. He admits to degrees from the University of Chicago and Columbia. When I asked him if he’d ever written about his various careers, he said that he hadn’t but that he would be happy to do so. His reflections on his work for the Tonight Show are here and here. His most recent posts are “Hollywood, hurray for?” and “Hollywood, hurray for? The sequel.” Today he writes:
One of the pleasures of blogging is getting reader response. My last effort dealt with the impact of the college educated on Hollywood (not good), and I was struck by the comment of a Mr. Al Sparks, who wrote, “I’ve read about the ‘too many college graduates’ (TMCG) problem in reference to journalism also. As late as the 1940s, most journalists were NOT college grads. Today, of course, most are, and are also out of touch with their audience.”
Ah, Mr. Sparks, how right you are. Things have indeed changed.
Consider this statement:
“It is also true that The New York Times is not a crusading newspaper. It is impressed with the responsibility of what it prints. It is conservative and independent, and so far as possible — consistent with honest journalism — attempts to aid and support those who are charged with the responsibility of government. There are many newspapers conducted along different lines, some of them vicious, ill-natured, and destructive of character and reputation, and for mere purposes of sensation they frequently terrorize well qualified and well meaning men to the point where they are discouraged from accepting invitations to give their ability, genius, and experience to the administration of public affairs.”
Those words were in a letter written in 1931 by Adolph Ochs, the publisher of The New York Times.
Can you imagine any publisher writing that today? Can you imagine a publisher who believes it’s his duty to “aid and support those who are charged with the responsibility of government”? That publisher would be labeled “unsophisticated,” blind to the “adversarial relationship,” indifferent to the need to “speak truth to power.” And, God knows, the man certainly doesn’t want to “make a difference.”
I was on The Times during the Vietnam War. I recall once going down to the newsroom, on the 3rd floor, to suggest a story on some problems at a military hospital. I was properly irate, as only someone with a fresh diploma could be. But Robert Alden, a legendary Times reporter, sat me down and quickly tempered my righteousness, recounting the history of military medicine, and the lives it had saved. He asked that I consider that background when suggesting my story. Can you imagine that today?
There have been many changes in journalism since World War II, but the most striking has come in the resum