Former CBS President Andrew Heyward visits Cronkite School

Former president of CBS Andrew Hayward visited the Cronkite School on Tuesday to discuss the challenges facing the next generation of journalists.

Excited ASU students were given the opportunity to ask the veteran journalist questions ranging from the future of newspapers to how television news will innovate to keep pace with the internet. During the hour-long discussion, which was also open to the public, Heyward outlined his vision for the future with hints of both optimism and warning.

“Prior to the 1980s, newsrooms didn’t have to be profitable,” said Heyward. “They were ‘loss leaders’ that added prestige to the network. After that period there were all sorts of corporate changes. What’s harder now than it was even 10 years ago is the tremendous financial pressure that the newsrooms have. They are expected to do more with less.”

Despite these harsh realities, Heyward’s message wasn’t all bad. “The good news is it’s become significantly cheaper to produce and distribute news.”

Journalism is a far more welcoming field than it once was, according to Heyward. He said it offers a lot more reward for individual talent than it used to. As students scribbled furiously to keep up with Mr. Heyward’s rapid speaking style, he went on to say that journalists are no longer expected to fit into the cookie-cutter mold that was standard for old newsrooms.

In Heyward’s view, online startups like Vice, Vox and Buzzfeed are the future of print journalism. He believes that Vice is the most impressive of the three because they use old-fashioned reporting methods to craft their stories. “Something that’s very important to remember is it’s much easier to chase viewers away than it is to attract them,” he said. “You have to protect your core while going for more.”

On the innovation issue, Heyward explained the concept of a “social scanner.” ┬áIn much the same way as one would use a police scanner, newsrooms and broadcast stations can use a social scanner to form a two-way relationship with their audience by digging into social issues and other hot topics. “Local news has been floundering because their style is too formulaic. Wildfires and court cases only really interest those whom are directly affected by them. Running stories like that are easy, so in a way it’s reaching for the low-hanging fruit.”

In Heyward’s experience, there is a perception in the newsroom that being a reporter is an annoyance that one must simply get through, and that being an anchor is the big prize. He said in order to really improve the position that journalism is in, we have to create the mindset among professionals that being an anchor is the boring/unfulfilling role and that reporting is where the exciting, meaningful work is done.

“If there were more transparency in the process of news gathering/reporting between the professionals and their audience, it would increase journalist’s credibility and ease the perception that all journalism outlets are biased,” said Heyward.

In perhaps his most profound observation of the night, Heyward said that a journalist’s job is not to reveal truth, it’s to discover facts. This carries legitimate weight when you consider that what’s true to one person may not necessarily be true to someone else, so in order to cut through the bias, ignorance and personal perceptions, journalists must find the actual facts.

It’s difficult to tell exactly where journalism will go in the coming decades – even Andrew Heyward will confirm that. But there’s one thing he knew for sure: millennials are fortunate enough to be born at the most exciting and transformative period of journalism in centuries. Before departing the stage Heyward looked at the crowd and said, “I envy you.”