HOME
          
LATEST STORY
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Sept. 16, 2011, 12:30 p.m.

“A Vast Wasteland Revisited”: A Berkman Center discussion on the state of television and media

Fifty years after Newt Minow’s famous speech to America’s young television industry, has the vast wasteland only gotten vaster?

On Monday, an all-star group of speakers gathered at Harvard Law School to consider a phrase first spoken 50 years ago. It was on May 9, 1961 that Newt Minow, then the young head of the Federal Communications Commission, gave what would be called the Wasteland Speech:

When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.

That got tongues wagging — the media likes nothing so much as to talk about the media. And when New York Times reporter Val Adams put the “vast wasteland” quote in his second paragraph — and a headline writer pulled it into Cheltenham bold italic on the Times’ front page — a new media catchphrase was born.

The event Monday tried to put the vast wasteland into today’s much vaster context. Minow himself, now 85, gave remarks, and a cast of worthies from all corners of media and media law contributed: Berkmanites Yochai Benkler and John Palfrey, FCC emeriti Reed Hundt and Kevin Martin, legal scholar Ellen Goodman, journalist Jonathan Alter, MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, and what felt like a cast of thousands, all ably guided by Jonathan Zittrain. (Of particular note were Martha Minow, Newt’s daughter and now dean of Harvard Law School, and Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation and thus my boss.)

Berkman’s now posted video of the event — take a look.

POSTED     Sept. 16, 2011, 12:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What’s the right news experience on a phone? Stacy-Marie Ishmael and BuzzFeed are trying to figure it out
“Nobody has to read you. You have to earn that. You have to respect people’s attention.”
Come work for Nieman Lab
We have an opening for a staff writer in our Cambridge newsroom.
The newsonomics of telling your audience what they should do
At WNYC, a public radio station is getting more aggressive about telling people what to do: go vote, get more sleep, stay healthy. What happens when a news outlet starts talking about behavior change?
What to read next
686
tweets
Ken Doctor: The New York Times’ financials show the transition to digital accelerating
The numbers may look flat, but they contain a continuing set of ups and downs. Up next: executing on a year’s worth of launches.
496Controlled chaos: As journalism and documentary film converge in digital, what lessons can they share?
Old and new media types from journalism, documentary, and technology backgrounds gathered at MIT to share practices and discuss mutual concerns.
389Here’s some remarkable new data on the power of chat apps like WhatsApp for sharing news stories
At least in certain contexts, WhatsApp is a truly major traffic driver — bigger even than Facebook. Should there be a WhatsApp button on your news site?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
West Seattle Blog
U.S. News & World Report
New Jersey Newsroom
Financial Times
Publish2
Topix
The Fiscal Times
Franklin Center
InvestigateWest
The Globe and Mail
Medium
Kickstarter