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Inside the Upheaval of Journalism

Reporters Look Back on 50 Years of Covering the News


Edited By Ted Gest and Dotty Brown

In the spring of 1969, 101 students received master’s degrees from Columbia University’s prestigious School of Journalism, where they had learned the trade as it was then practiced. Most hoped to start a career in newspapers, radio, television or magazines, the established forms of journalism of that era. Little did they realize how the news world they were entering would be upended by the internet and by the social forces that would sweep through the country over the next 50 years.

This book tells the story of the news media revolution through the eyes of those in the Class of 1969 who lived it and helped make it happen. It is an insider’s look at the reshaping of the Fourth Estate and the information Americans now get and don’t get—crucial aspects of the vibrancy of democracy.

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America was reeling as 101 graduate students, hoping to create a better world, arrived at the Columbia University School of Journalism for a one-year master’s degree program in the fall of 1968. Just months before, on April 4, the Rev. Martin Luther King had been assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where he had come to support the city’s sanitation workers. Two months later, on June 4, U.S. Senator Bobby Kennedy, who was running for president, was murdered after a speech in Los Angeles. Urban rebellions in cities across the country the previous few years had killed more than 100 people and injured thousands. Columbia itself had not been spared: in student protests against the Vietnam War and the university’s military contracts, 132 students, four faculty, and 12 police officers had been injured and 700 arrested that spring when 1,000 police officers converged on the campus to evict protestors who had occupied several buildings.

Figure 0.1: The Class of 1969, with newly minted master’s degrees, stands on the steps of Pulitzer Hall on Columbia’s campus. We graduated into an era of manual typewriters and slow-processing TV film. While technology has changed, the values we learned at school stayed with us. Source: Courtesy of the Columbia University School of Journalism

Members of the J-School Class of 1969 would forge unique bonds in these fraught times, although we chose separate paths within the school’s curriculum: Some poured their energy...

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