Pressures by media companies to generate ever-greater profits are threatening the very freedom the nation was built upon, former CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite warned Thursday.
In a keynote address at Columbia University in New York, Cronkite said today's journalists face greater challenges than those from his generation. No longer could journalists count on their employers to provide the necessary resources, he said, "to expose truths that powerful politicians and special interests often did not want exposed."
Instead, he said, "they face rounds and rounds of job cuts and cost cuts that require them to do ever more with ever less."
"In this information age and the very complicated world in which we live today, the need for high-quality reporting is greater than ever," he told journalism students and professionals at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. "It's not just the journalist's job at risk here. It's American democracy. It is freedom."
Cronkite said news accuracy has declined because of consolidations and closures that have left many American towns with only one newspaper. And as broadcasters cut budgets and air time for news, he said, "we're all left with a sound bite culture that turns political campaigns into political theater."
The former anchor urged owners of media companies — newspapers and broadcast alike — to recognize they have special civil responsibilities.
"Consolidation and cost cutting may be good for the bottom line in the short term but that isn't necessarily good for the country or the health of the news business in the long term," he said.