Schieffer: Democracy cannot exist without journalists

Despite technology and competition, reporters are necessary for democracy to thrive, two veteran journalists said Monday at a university event.

CBS News’ chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer, a TCU alumnus, and Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of CBS’ “48 Hours,” told personal stories about their experiences in journalism. Schieffer talked about his encounters with presidents Gerald Ford and Lyndon Johnson, and Zirinsky spoke of her time working at CBS, which she joined as a part-time production clerk in 1972.

Schieffer said that as long as there is news, there will be reporters.

“Democracy cannot exist without the attendance of journalists,” he said. “The basic tenets of journalism still hold true.”

Although there are many media where news exists, journalists are the most important aspect of news, Schieffer said.

“You cannot have democracy unless the citizens have an independently gathered source of information,” he said. “As long as there’s a need, no matter what the technology, there will always be a need for reporters to furnish the information a democracy must have.”

Zirinsky agreed with Schieffer in that there is a need for journalists in a democracy, adding that there are still jobs available for budding journalists.

“You have to want to be the person who shares the information,” she said. “It’s that passion, that determination. If you want it bad enough, you’ll find that job.”

Schieffer said the changing face of the news changed the manner by which media consumers find their news.

“The technology will decide how we get the news,” he said.

Choosing news today, he said, is like placing a food order. A news order can also come with a side of viewpoint, he said. But it is best, he said, if the order comes with many sides.

“To be truly informed, you have to get your views from a variety of sources,” Schieffer said.

However, Zirinsky said the news industry cannot please all of its consumers.

“Do you always give the people what they want?” she said. “We’re not a marketplace; we’re a business.”

Zirinsky, who was one of the producers of “Broadcast News,” the film shown before her conversation with Schieffer, said news networks are avoiding a sense of bias, even though it might not seem that way.

“(The networks) still maintain a series of checks and balances that help to maintain an objective point of view,” she said.

As for the bickering that takes place between guests on cable news channels, Zirinsky said it continues because people watch it.

“If there was no market for it, they wouldn’t be there,” she said.

Schieffer spoke fondly of his experience at “Face the Nation,” the weekly politics briefing that he hosts on CBS.

He referred to finding guests for “Face the Nation” as “a huge fist fight,” but said it is invaluable to broadcast journalism.

“There’s nothing fancy about what we do (at ‘Face the Nation’),” Schieffer said. “There seems to be a need for that kind of broadcast.”