Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Should it stay or should it go: News outlets scramble to cover Britain’s decision to exit the European Union
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Sept. 16, 2011, 12:30 p.m.
Television

“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.
Should it stay or should it go: News outlets scramble to cover Britain’s decision to exit the European Union
Online, readers stayed up for the results: Peak traffic to BBC News, for instance, was around 4 a.m. GMT, and by 11 a.m. BBC.com had received 88 million page views.
Acast wants to get new audiences “in the podcast door” with more diverse shows and better data
With a new paid subscription option and its sights set on non English-speaking countries, the Swedish podcasting startup is looking for listeners (and shows) beyond the iTunes set.
“Medium’s team did everything”: How 5 publishers transitioned their sites to Medium
What happened when Pacific Standard, The Ringer, The Awl, The Bold Italic, and Femsplain moved their sites over to Medium.
What to read next
0What does it take to be a “full-service” digital journalism organization? Ask Discourse Media
“We’ve gone down lots of experimental rabbit holes.”
0Hot Pod: New podcasts, more existential public radio talk, and progress on intern wages
Plus: New big-picture views from Pew, Malcolm Gladwell hits the promo circuit, and more growth in branded podcasts.
0Hot Pod: Is the Stitcher deal a step toward a closed podcast ecosystem?
Plus: Midroll’s CEO steps down, Malcolm Gladwell goes audio, and how voice assistants (Siri, Alexa, Cortana) could impact NPR’s drive time programs.
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 ➚
IRE/NICAR
Forbes
FiveThirtyEight
Tumblr
The Daily Telegraph
The Guardian
Time
New West
Windy Citizen
Fwix
Daily Kos
Honolulu Civil Beat