Q&A with Marist College journalism professor Kevin Lerner
Kevin Lerner is an assistant professor of journalism at Marist College and editor of The Journal of Magazine Media.
After earning a master’s degree in journalism, he worked as an editor at Architectural Record Magazine from 2000-2003, where he oversaw a print department and the website of the magazine. Lerner left to start teaching full-time but continued to freelance. He has had work published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Columbia Journalism Review, and more.
Lerner was especially intrigued by the concept of journalism as an intellectual process, which initiated his teaching career as a historian of American journalism, his doctoral program, and the composition of his first book, Provoking the Press: (MORE) Magazine and the Crisis of Confidence in American Journalism. Lerner is currently working on a second book about three journalists who were frustrated by the way the New York Times limited the possibilities of journalism, and left to push the boundaries of what journalism could be.
Q: What are you hearing from your students or members about their ambitions and hopes for the profession?
KL: In the last few years, I have seen more ambitious students choosing journalism than I did previously, and they are optimistic that they can rethink how journalism gets done for a new generation. The most rewarding thing, by far, is working with smart young women and men who go on to become leaders in the field.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring young writers and reporters?
KL: Read, especially outside of what you think your interests are. You can’t be narrow if you’re going to be a part of the conversation. Young reporters and writers don’t consume enough of the journalism that they claim to want to be a part of.
Q: What does the future of journalism look like to you?
KL: The most difficult problem for the future of journalism is figuring out how to support it financially. The loss of the advertising model has been devastating for many publications, especially local news. Thanks to the development of a commercial press in the United States, funds are required to continue providing resources to news channels. But the fact that the practice of journalism and the journalism industry aren’t exactly the same thing gives me hope. The practice of journalism it is necessary for maintaining an open society, and if enough people fight for it to continue, figuring out a way to pay for it should happen.
Q: What are some of the best practices from journalism’s past that you feel need to be utilized now?
KL: Journalists now are more self-aware, self-critical, and better educated than at just about any time in history, which is a good thing. I don’t think that any best practices have been lost along the way, and as long as journalists maintain a discipline of verification, I think that the public will catch up to what they are doing, and a higher level of trust will be restored.
Q: What do you think about the role of technology in journalism? Is it helpful? harmful? Something in between?
KL: Certainly, social media is some of both: it helps reporters connect to each other and to sources, but it also reduces the gatekeeper role of news organizations in determining where a public conversation is going. Minority voices get a bigger megaphone, which is both good for amplifying those that had been unfairly marginalized and bad for amplifying those that should be fringe views. But technological change has driven journalistic change for centuries. Steam printing presses, cheap paper, and the telegraph are all technology, too.
Q: What learnings have made a tremendous difference in your career?
KL: I constantly emphasize the need to be self-critical of your actions and reasons behind them. I’ve also learned to remind myself that public affairs journalism isn’t the only “important” kind of journalism, since it’s easy to forget that sometimes.