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Huffington to '09 Grads: "Journalism is about speaking truth to power"

  • By CUNY J-School Staff

The co-founder of one of the most influential new online media sites told the Class of 2009 that the eternal truths about journalism will remain constant, no matter how much technology and the world around us change.

“Whether you do it in print, on video, via Twitter or Facebook, the ultimate goal of journalism is to speak truth to power,” said Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post. “Journalists have an incredible responsibility to remember and remind the world about the things many of our leaders continue to want to forget.”

Huffington made her remarks December 16th at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism’s third commencement at The Times Center auditorium in midtown Manhattan. Some 58 students received their Master of Arts in Journalism degrees at ceremonies that also included speeches by Dean Stephen B. Shepard, Class of ’09 representative Damiano Beltrami, CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor for University Relations Jay Hershenson, and CUNY Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Philip Berry. Optimism about the future was a common theme of all the speakers, despite the media industry’s difficult transition to the digital age.

“This is an amazing moment to be entering journalism,” Huffington said. This was demonstrated during the Iran uprising earlier this year when citizen journalists circumvented the Iranian government’s control of the mainstream media by getting out their stories through Twitter feeds, Facebook updates, video camera downloads, and cellphone pictures.

Shepard cited the Huffington Post along with Politico, The Daily Beast, and other news outlets that have come into existence only in the past few years as reasons for hope: “These new sites have hired hundreds of journalists, including some of our graduates. Have these gains offset the job loss in traditional media? No, but the transition is underway.”

He also accepted the challenge to come up with new ways to support quality journalism. “For great journalism to survive and prosper, we as a School have to confront the business model question. And so we will, under the auspices of The Tow Center for Journalistic Innovation. We will expand on the entrepreneurial journalism course we now offer. We will expand on our hyperlocal projects. We will expand our research on new business models,” Shepard promised.

Demonstrating the wit and intelligence that helped get him elected class speaker by his peers, Beltrami opened with a story about how his favorite bodega owner suggested he become a dentist rather than a journalist. But observing that journalism was a lot more fun, he swore that would never happen.

He complimented his class on its passion for reporting and its entrepreneurial spirit. “The job market is tight but we have to tell the untold stories out there, in Mumbai, India as well as Fort Greene, Brooklyn,” he said. He added that “the key to success in this digital age is what we’ve learned in the streets of New York, Tel Aviv, and Brussels. Report, report, and report. Because if there is no good reporting, there is little to link to, nothing to blog about, and less to share on Twitter.”