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Columnist gives Red Smith lecture

Joanna Lagedrost | Friday, October 5, 2012

One tweet says it all: “Journalism today all about speed, buzz, page views, instanaiety, not substance, leads to uninformed citizens, end of democracy, and probably civilization.”

Kathleen Parker, author of the above tweet, Washington Post syndicated columnist and winner of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, delivered the 29th annual Red Smith Lecture in Journalism on Thursday, titled “Journalism in the Age of Twitteracy.”

Despite her success, Parker said she did not originally plan on becoming a journalist. Born in Winter Haven, Fla., she said reading was protection from unpleasant household chores for her. She said she read quite a bit in her youth.

Parker left Florida in her early 20s, ventured north and began writing at the Charleston Evening Post.

“I fell in love with journalism the old-fashioned way,” Parker said with a humorous bent. “We met at a party, we had a few drinks and one thing led to another. It really was love at first sight.

“We made no money – I was taking home 90 bucks a week – but we were happy because we were doing something important,” she said. “There is nothing like going home at the end of the day with something in your hand that shows what you did.”

Although she is always proud of her work, Parker said she often becomes frustrated while writing.

“I do procrastinate and I do love-hate writing, because it’s so hard,” she said. “Writing is extremely difficult. I have to sift through masses of information to determine what is meaningful, and then find the meaning in that.”

Her early experiences in journalism differ greatly from that of young journalists in the current age, Parker said.

“I’m afraid that the spirit that I grew up with seems to be dead. Technology may have liberated us from newsprint,” she said.

Technology may enable individuals to accomplish tasks faster and more efficiently, Parker said, but such efficiency is often overrated.

“Twitter is fast, furious, spontaneous and immediate. But haste is the enemy of accuracy,” she said. “We know a lot of stuff. But are we really smarter?”

Parker said technology changes human behavior, even if it does not change essential human nature.

“The consensus seems to be that we’re better off with more people, more non-journalists, more people who are non-media talking,” she said.

Parker said she disagreed with the consensus.

“All voices are not created equal,” she said. She added that writers today feel more entitled, without paying their “journalistic dues.”

Parker referenced her tweet when she presented the real problem of today’s generation.

“A 2008 study showed that 34 percent of young people age 18-24 get no news from any source on a typical day,” Parker said. “If no one is reading the news, how will we manage a democratic government that relies on an informed citizen?”

Parker’s experience with journalism will soon become simply a generation of journalism history, she said.

“We have to convince them [young people] of the importance of news to self-governance. I think this will be a real challenge in the age of Twitteracy,” Parker said.