Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
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.
Newsonomics: On end games and end times
Can publishers find a sustainable business model this new age of Facebook/Apple/Snapchat/Twitter/Google distributed content? And is local news destined to be left behind?
What Scribd’s growing pains mean for the future of digital content subscription models
It turns out that ebook subscription models don’t work very well when people read too much. So what happens next?
How research (and PowerPoints) became the backbone of National Journal’s membership program
“We no longer look at National Journal simply as a news source, but as a collection of resources, as well as a collection of experts we can turn to on occasion.”
What to read next
2843
tweets
A blow for mobile advertising: The next version of Safari will let users block ads on iPhones and iPads
Think making money on mobile advertising is hard now? Think how much more difficult it will be with a significant share of your audience is blocking all your ads — all with a simple download from the App Store.
1763For news organizations, this was the most important set of Apple announcements in years
A new Flipboard-clone with massive potential reach, R.I.P. Newsstand, and news stories embedded deeper inside iOS — it was a big day for news on iPhones and iPads.
762Newsonomics: 10 numbers that define the news business today
From video to social, from mobile to paywalls — these data points help define where we are in the “future of news” today, like it or not.
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 ➚
EveryBlock
Daily Mail
NewsTilt
Chi-Town Daily News
Circa
Detroit Free Press and Detroit News
Placeblogger
West Seattle Blog
The Guardian
Reuters
Quartz
Hearst