Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Says Now is the 'Best Time to be a Journalist'
Despite the challenges present in the industry today, John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, said he still believes in “the romance of being a journalist."
Avlon recently spoke at this year’s Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecture in Journalism, held in the Belo Center for New Media. He said he remains determined to keep journalism fresh and relevant.
“However insane today’s news may be and however exhausted we may feel, we have the option to feel invigorated by the challenges we face,” Avlon said. “That’s our opportunity, that's our responsibility, that's the good fight.”
Avlon stressed the need for newsrooms to abandon their reliance on older economic models and traditional advertising, advocating instead for differentiated brands rooted in quality.
“I think we need to deal with the fact that journalism is under attack from massive economic shifts that cannot be ignored,” he said. “We have a generational responsibility to confront it in a clear-eyed way, consistent with our commitment to quality and respecting our readers’ time and intelligence. That's not a given, but that's the right bet to make if we’re really gonna dive into and embrace the mission-driven business of journalism.”
Viewing journalism as a mission-driven business is paramount, he said.
“For all the challenges we face, and sometimes they feel surreal, like something out of a dark satirical novel, I firmly believe that we will look back on this time as the best time to be a journalist, not because it was easy but because it was hard and because our mission was clear,” Avlon said. “I think sometimes we forget a mission, a sense of purpose, is perhaps the most valuable thing for a human being, it's what gives structure and texture to our days. It's the internal engine that drives us and makes us aspire.”
Avlon started his career as a speechwriter under former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, where he said his immersion in city government made him wary of hyper-partisanship. The Daily Beast avoids such polarization, according to Avlon.
“We do not assume that either political party has a monopoly on virtue and vice,” Avlon said. “I think partisan media is a big part of the problem we have in the country, but we’re not going to pretend moral equivalence on every issue. We’re simply going to commit to punching both sides where appropriate.”
The current state of affairs between the media and the White House isn’t normal, in Avlon’s professional experience.
“First, I want to address the political environment we are operating in,” Avlon said. “There is a natural tension between an administration and the press, every president has complained about the press he receives. That’s normal, that’s baked into the cake. I do not consider the president and his attacks as anything remotely normal in history.”
The Daily Beast is an example of what Avlon calls intersectional journalism, a term usually disparaged in the industry. But that meshing of entertainment and news often acts like a “gateway drug” in drawing younger readers to interact with more stories, he said.
“We do not shy away from entertainment, we certainly don't shy away from politics,” Avlon said. “We need to understand that news doesn't take like medicine, and we can reach a young audience if we understand we have an obligation to entertain while we educate. If I get a young reader who comes in because they want to read about Beyonce and they bump into a story about ISIS, that is providing a civic service, that's expanding a mind. We need to make sure that rising generations are engaged with the news, and it’s one way to do it.”
At the end of the day, Avlon said, a journalist’s job is to insist on truthful, open debate–a principle extending back to the founding fathers.
“If you ever doubt the value of journalism, not just as a profession but a principled calling, just remember this: democracy depends on it, folks,” Avlon said. “There is no braver mission than that.”
Photos by Jaclyn Maneri.
Freshman Journalism Major