TIME Editor Rick Stengel discusses the present state of journalism and campaigning

Just in time for a month of heated GUSA campaigning and the sometimes subjective media coverage that accompanies it, TIME Magazine Managing Editor Rick Stengel spoke to Georgetown’s chief political organizations on Thursday night. Brought by the Georgetown Lecture Fund, and co-hosted by College Democrats and College Republicans, Stengel dealt with the heated topics of bias and subjectivity in the media, freedom of information, the concepts of “right” and “wrong,” the need for transparency, and how all of this relates to the world’s major news outlets.

Stengel initiated in the part-lecture, part-discussion with the decree that he should not be quoted, that “all of the following is to go off the record,” and that those hoping to relay the words to subsequently come out of his mouth should definitely check with him first. This dictatorial opening with a partially humorous motif was met with the nervous giggle of some of the audience. To a filled auditorium in Reiss, Stengel began to riff about his often unexpected beliefs on the absence of objectivity, the importance of the tablet age to news sources, and the lack of funds to political campaigns.

“Newspapers and magazines can try to be be objective, but they’ll only end up pretending to do so,” he proclaimed. “The best path a journalist can take is getting all of his or her information straight, and to leave that unbiased. To tie it all together, he or she should give their opinion on the matter. Transparency is the best option.”

Stengel spoke on his work throughout the years with political campaigns, how the news-to-tablet phenomena spawned a rather close relationship with the recently deceased Apple CEO Steve Jobs, his work with The New Yorker, which he described as a magazine that “appeals to a certain set of people,” and deals with issues “that are not necessarily current, but definitely important, and highly conceptual.” Perhaps most shockingly in the lecture, Stengel confessed that political campaigns do not get enough funding, at least relatively.

“On the entire presidential campaign season, however many years that crosses, a rough $5 billion will be spent, collectively. Procter & Gamble spends $5 billion in one marketing year on advertising,” Stengel said. “As much as money is spent on helping you decide which yogurt to buy as who is going to be holding the highest political position in the United States for up to eight years.” He then pondered Citizens United and the need for transparency as to who was donating to a political campaign.

In a rather surprising lecture on the nature of the internet and the media, Stengel finished the night by taking questions. After discussing on how it was to work for The New Yorker, how the TIME “Person of the Year” was selected, and how he felt on discrepancies between political candidates and media outlets, he gave a young journalist in the audience tips for success in the field.

“Be able to do everything. Have experience with every type of media, and do it all well. But, contradictory to this, have a specialty. Be able to cover something better than any other journalist. If someone were to ask me if he or she should go to law school or journalism school, or business school or journalism school, I would tell them to pick the option that is not journalism school,” Stengel concluded.

Photo: Richard J. De La Paz

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