Jan 21, 2015
\"The New World of Media\"
ROBERT WEBB bio:
Graduate, University of Missouri School of Journalism; further work at Tulane, Yale (schol.), Arizona State U., and George Washington University. Worked on newspapers in South and Southwest; Associate Editor, The State Times, Jackson, MS; wrote script for “Eyewitness to a Miracle,” documentary film on the Mississippi state sanatorium; president of Jackson, Ms. pro chapter of Society of Professional Journalists ; did commentaries on Jackson WLBT-TV. Worked 30-plus years on The Cincinnati Enquirer as reporter, education writer, night city editor, politics writer, Washington bureau chief (1970-1975), news editor, senior editorial writer and twice-weekly columnist (1976-1993); also chaired Enquirer Middle Management Board.
Founding president of Cincinnati pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists(SPJ). Represented SPJ chapter in working with Woman’s City Club and U.S. Justice Department on media-racial relations program and was a speaker for it. Frequent interviewer for “World Front” program on Cincinnati WLW-TV and other stations. Founding editor of “World Front” newsletter on international affairs. Traveled as journalist to Canada, Russia, Ukraine, Czech Republic, East and West Germany, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Costa Rica, Israel, Occupied Egypt and Lebanon. Covered 12 national political conventions.
Recipient , “Trustbuilders” award in 2007 from U.S. division of Initiatives of Change(IofC); served as moderator in July, 2008 at IofC international conference in Switzerland “Addressing the Root Causes of Human Insecurity.” Wrote feature stories and column, “Webbsite,” for London-based international magazine, “For a Change.”
Currently, vice president for North America, International Communications Forum(ICF), chairman of ICF’s American chapter; immediate past president of Washington, D.C. Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Major awards: George Washington Honor Medal for excellence in editorial writing from Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge; distinguished public affairs reporting from American Political Science Association; special citation from American Society of Planning Officials as lead writer-researcher for Cincinnati Enquirer project, “The Crisis Where We Live.” Member, National Press Club’s Newsmaker and International Correspondents committees.
SK: Today, you serve as the Vice President for North America, International Communications Forum (ICF). The Forum is a growing world-wide network of media people who recognize the they have the power to influence society for good. The Forum believes that moral basis of society without which democracy cannot flourish. What is your role as a Vice President? What you hope to achieve?
As one of six regional vice-presidents of the ICF and chair of its American chapter I strive in the path of our founder to help make media a more constructive force in society – one that seeks to heal, rather than hurt, to unite rather than divide and to bring people together rather than drive them apart. Media’s potential in this regard is enormous. It could become one of the world’s major reconciling and positive change agents.
I work with colleagues in North America and elsewhere to help media professionals find a higher vision for what they do in their communities, nations and the world. We’ve had ICF events from Russia and Eastern Europe to India, South Africa, Australia, Jamaica, the U.S. and Canada. Significantly, former journalist Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of the Mahatma now teaching at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, participated in at least one of our ICF events and strongly believes in what we do.
We put special emphasis on our premier mission statement, the Sarajevo Commitment introduced at our Sarajevo 2000 World Media Assembly. It is a visionary statement about what media could do in the 21st century that it didn’t in the 20th. Now in at least 17 languages, the SC has circulated widely across the world. A major Beirut newspaper translated and published all or part of it in Arabic. Jay Rosen, who directs the journalism program at New York University, calls it eloquent, historic and compares it to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
SK: Bob, how do you know Mr. Rajmohan Gandhi?
My friendship with Rajmohan Gandhi, a former journalist, began more than 40 years ago through our commitment to a global reconciling work known as Initiatives of Change (formerly, Moral Re-Armament) and embracing people from all walks and backgrounds. I can't remember exactly when or where we met. But it was not long after I changed from a journalist defending racial segregation to one striving to heal rather than hurt, unite rather than divide and bring people together rather than driving them apart.
Our commitment to reaching out with a message of hope to a troubled world makes ours an enduring friendship. He has long been a source of inspiration for me with his deep care for people of all colors, races, ethnicity and faiths. He has worked long and hard for the reconciliation of India and Pakistan and of Hindus and Muslims. But he is just as eager to help every nation find its rightful part in saving the planet from every kind of injustice, violence and war.
We have worked together on some occasions, as in his launch at the National Press Club of his second biography of his grandfather. That event led to a major feature in The Washington Post and an invitation to write a full-page article in Oprah Magazine which clung to the NPC bulletin board for months. As well, we had him back to the NPC in 2010 to speak at an event sponsored by the club's International Correspondents Committee. During the George W. Bush Presidency, along with an Initiatives of Change colleague, Will Elliott, Rajmohan and I met with members of the National Security Council.
Another memorable time was in 2004 when Rajmohan and his wife, Usha, invited me to an overnight stay with them in Urbana, IL, where he has for years been a visiting professor at the University of Illinois' main campus. We attended a concert that night where he introduced me to other faculty members. The next day I was in Normal, IL visiting their student son, Debu, now a lawyer.
SK: Bob, you traveled as journalist to Russia, Ukraine, East and West Germany, Japan, Korea, South Africa, and a few more to name. We talked about the role of media and its role in shaping public opinion and stimulating human minds.
What happened to the media in the 21st century? Wether we like or not, we live in the era of global communication.
My travels to Russia, Ukraine and other countries: When the Soviet Union collapsed there was widespread hope that mass media would become freer throughout Russia and the evolving countries it once controlled as regions or satellites. Some of that happened. But in many countries there appeared to be little change. In Ukraine, for example, journalism remained risky. The most flagrant example was the murder and beheading of Georgi Gongadze, the courageous Kiev online journalist whose journalist widow, Myroslava, tried in vain for years to get a bona fide investigation of his death. In Hungary, journalists complained that while they no longer had to fear the Communists they had to fear the political parties with which their media owners were allied.
In Russia, meanwhile, the sudden burst of a media spring soon faded as journalists were murdered with scant chance of justice for their killers. Authoritarian regimes continue tight control of media. But nowhere, including in many otherwise free societies, do journalists enjoy total freedom as Freedom House attests in its annual rankings of the degree of press freedom in countries across the world.
But there’s another concern – many media practitioners fail to practice their profession responsibly. What they write or broadcast fails to give their audiences the accurate, objective information they need. That’s true in America as elsewhere. To the extent these practitioners fail their nations fail. No one was more aware of this than the late Congressman Henry Hyde of Chicago, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee. He said media had more influence on the nation than Congress.
With the dawn of the 21st century and explosion of the Web, a question arose: will the near-infinite number of bloggers, social networking sites and the like be a blessing or curse? The jury remains out. But every blogger, every Web site should be held to the highest standards – truth, accuracy, civility. As the late Bill Porter, founder-president of the International Communications Forum (ICF), often reminded, mass media shape the minds of their publics and thus their countries’ future. He founded the ICF to help media play a more constructive role in society, to help right the wrongs we see all around us and build the kind of world for which we all long.
SK: America’s vast investment in technology from cell phones to hand-held electronic gadgets of a wide variety poses the question: what impact will it have on our culture and on a world where millions exist on less than a dollar a day? Does it mean such countries as Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo must join the technology revolution to survive?
Our culture and much of the world’s is in decline as the 2009-2010 winter issue of American Arts Quarterly makes clear. The lead article by its editor and publisher, James F. Cooper, traces the coarsoning of culture, citing a 1990 full-page editorial in The New York Times, “Is ‘Quality’ an Idea Whose Time Has Gone?” We should all ponder that question.
SK: You covered 12 national political conventions. Your work gained recognition for reporting on the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles on July 11-15, 1960. John F. Kennedy became the second youngest President (after Theodore Roosevelt) and youngest elected to the office, at the age of 43. Can you take us back to July of 1960. What did you admire the most in John F. Kennedy? What would John F. Kennedy say about America and the world today?
My guess is, plenty. He would surely be appalled by the White House and Congressional gridlock and the human rights travesties across the world. In a novel way we met in Los Angeles as he pursued the 1960 Democratic National Convention nomination for President. At the time I was associate editor of The State Times in Jackson, MS. Our governor, Ross Barnett, a strong conservative, would not meet with Kennedy but agreed to talk with him on the phone. Kennedy came to his motel to make that call. I met him when he stepped out of his car. We talked en route to the motel. All I remember of our conversation was that we talked about James P. Coleman, Mississippi’s more moderate governor at the 1956 Democratic convention at which Kennedy narrowly lost the nomination for Vice-President but set the stage for his 1960 campaign. The next and last time I saw him up close was when, as President, he briefed journalists at the State Department on the Bay of Pigs fiasco.
What did I admire most about him? His courage in averting a nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis. But I also admired his youthful vigor, lofty vision for America and establishment of the Peace Corps. Having covered for Hearst newspapers the United Nations after WWII, he loved talking with journalists. He was, in that sense, a reporter’s President. It was hard not to like him. In later years, I would interview his brother, Bobby, and meet his other brother, Ted, who put me on to a good medical story.
SK: What is your idea of success and personal happiness?
What is my idea of success and personal happiness? It is that marvelous sense of inner peace and freedom that comes when I do something I think might help move humankind at least a notch or two toward that world, as the Sarajevo Commitment says, “in which everyone cares enough and everyone shares enough so that everyone will have enough; a world in which the work and wealth of the world are available to all at the exploitation of none.”
SK: What is your greatest achievement?
What is my greatest achievement? The change I underwent as a racist journalist in the Deep South where I grew up to one who tries to respect, reach out to and care for people of every race, color and creed.
SK: What is your secret to your success?
What is the secret of my success? Listening to my inner voice and to friends I respect for help and direction.
SK: Bob, thank you for being with us today.