Less than ten minutes into his lecture in the Journalism School’s Joseph Pulitzer World Room on Thursday night, Eric Bates called out the elephant in the room. “It’s really not possible to get together in a room full of journalists anymore without talking about the profession itself,” the executive editor of Rolling Stone admitted.
Standing in the very spot where Slate editor Jacob Weisberg had declared just a week before that print journalism could cease to exist within five years, Bates hit the nail on the head. The Journalism School alumnus dedicated his lecture, part of the ongoing Delacorte Series, to defending and defining the role of his particular brand of journalism—long-form, narrative magazine writing—in the new information economy.
Bates began by describing the resurgence of political coverage at Rolling Stone over the past decade, beginning in the early Bush administration and continuing through the present. In particular, the magazine has focused on covering the economy, war, and political accountability, producing such memorable pieces as writer Matt Taibbi’s infamous piece on Goldman Sachs labeling the firm a “giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity” and a profile of General Stanley McChrystal that resulted in his abrupt dismissal.
The article that Bates felt best demonstrated Rolling Stone’s role in the Internet age was an expose of a renegade unit in Afghanistan that received almost no mainstream media coverage. In terms of new information, said Bates, the article had relatively little to offer; where it truly succeeded was in piecing together a coherent narrative, painting a disturbing portrait of modern warfare. The article received more than 30 million page views, illustrating what Bates sees as magazine journalism’s key advantage: its ability to provide longer, more in-depth stories compared to the short, just-the-facts reporting found in newspapers and most Web sources.
Ultimately, Bates argued that the Internet introduced much-needed competition into the field of journalism and serves as a complement rather than a competitor to Rolling Stone’s reporting. Bates concluded by encouraging his audience to consider journalism’s greater purpose rather than its bottom line: “People need to think about who their work serves, and who their work is on behalf of. I think the Internet forces us to do that.”
Rolling Stones via Flickr Creative Commons