April 8, 2005

USA Today Editor Speaks

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“I’m not that negative, we just need to work harder,” said Ken Paulson, editor of USA Today, referring to his criticism of American journalists. Paulson spoke last night at the Straight. The challenges facing reporters, along with the role of the First Amendment, and USA Today’s place in the media were the topics of Paulson’s speech, “Freedom with Responsibility.”

“Superman — who was he when he wasn’t leaping tall buildings? He was a journalist for a great metropolitan newspaper,” Paulson said. He went on to explain that this made sense, as journalists were heroes in the early ’60s. Sometime around Nixon’s presidency, the status of journalists changed.

Reporters are now faced with a “liberal” stigma according to some, and the government has become increasingly secretive, with the Bush administration more unfriendly to reporters than Clinton’s before it, Paulson said.

“Politicians do not see any political benefit to talking to reporters; good reporting changes that,” Paulson told The Sun.

Placing additional emphasis on the hand of the reporter, Paulson said: “Solid reporting can force the hand of government officials who would otherwise not be forthcoming.”

With such power comes responsibility: Paulson complained that in 20 percent of the articles written about him, he had been misquoted and in 50 percent of the articles written about him, there had been factual errors.

However, “there have been cases when I’ve misidentified people,” Paulson told The Sun. Paulson also highlighted the virtues of the First Amendment.

“You can make the case that the First Amendment is what makes this country so special. It is not a coincidence that the strongest, most vital, most influential nation in the history of the planet is also the most free.”

The First Amendment guarantees citizens everything from the opportunity for social change to the protection of each generation’s music from the criticism of disapproving parents.

USA Today has taken some measures to ensure that their coverage most fully represents the freedom of the press. Since Paulson has taken on the role of editor, there has been a 75 percent decrease in the number of anonymous sources quoted in the paper. To use an anonymous source in an article requires the Managing Editor’s approval of the fact, a rationale for why it is news, and for why it must be off the record.

USA Today also prides itself on the balance of its coverage.

“On any given week we get accused of being both liberal and conservative,” Paulson said. During his stay at Cornell, Paulson also spoke in Communication 394, a special topics course in communication, about digital communication.

“Paulson spoke about the transition to digital technology and how it’s affected journalism,” said Prof. Tarleton Gillespie, communication. “Students were engaged and he was perfectly ready to field questions.”

Ken Paulson’s trip to Cornell was organized by the Student Assembly as the first program in a three-part series entitled “Freedom with Responsibility.” Paulson was selected because “USA Today is already circulated on the Cornell campus through the Collegiate Readership program,” explained Robin Irwin, regional marketing director for USA Today.

Students enjoyed Paulson’s speech.

“Ken Paulson is an expert in the area of First Amendment rights and his speech was exactly what the S.A. was looking for,” said Michelle Fernandes ’06, an S.A. representative.

Archived article by Erica Fink
Sun News Editor