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Ted Koppel visits Luther

Ted Koppel engages with students at a meet and greet event.

Ted Koppel engages with students at a meet and greet event.

Katrina Meyer (‘19) | Chips

Katrina Meyer (‘19) | Chips

Ted Koppel engages with students at a meet and greet event.

Dirk Umbanhowar, Staff Writer

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Former host of ABC’s “Nightline” for 26 years, 42-time Emmy, and eight-time Peabody award-winning journalist Ted Koppel visited Luther to give the Roselin Distinguished Lecture on Tuesday, April 30 in the Center for Faith and Life at 7 p.m. The lecture was followed by a Q-&-A session.

Koppel’s visit was made possible in large part thanks to the Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy and Professor in Schools of Public Health and Medicine at the University of Minnesota Michael Osterholm (‘75), who gave the inaugural Roselin Distinguished Lecture last year.

“Last year, one of our regents, Michael Osterholm gave the inaugural lecture himself,” Associate Professor of History and Director for the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement Victoria Christman said. “This year he invited Ted Koppel, who he has known for many years. Osterholm is a nationally recognized expert on infectious disease and he first met Koppel in the 1980s when he appeared on “Nightline” to talk about the AIDS outbreak. The two have known each other ever since.”

Seeing Koppel was an exciting experience for attendees who enjoyed watching him on ABC’s “Nightline” for years. This was the case for General Manager of KWLC David Grouws.

“Ted has been on the news for a big part of my lifetime, and he’s probably the most distinguished still-living journalism practitioner,” Grouws said. “It was a real treat to get to meet him.”

During the lecture, Koppel said that the democratization of media, the creation of networks such as CNN; Fox News; MSNBC; and others outside the former big three CBS, ABC, and NBC, has led to a dangerous competitiveness in the business. According to Koppel, this competition may lead to fake stories, partisan panels instead of actual reporting, and evening shows looking for ratings that put people in what Koppel calls “opinion silos.” According to Koppel, this leads to “bad journalism.”

Katrina Meyer (‘19) | Chips
Ted Koppel meets Emeritus Professor of Biology and administrator David J. Roselin.

Koppel criticized networks for their coverage of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, giving him over $2 billion dollars in free airtime by showing the audience his rallies and live shots of an empty tarmac with nothing happening for hours before Trump’s event. Koppel criticized broadcasters for caring more about money and viewership in their coverage of Trump’s successful presidential run than journalism and fact-based reporting.

The audience had mixed reactions to Koppel’s criticism of democratization of the media.

“There were many things in his talk that I agreed with, but one of the things that I was sad to see was how pessimistic he was about the democratization of media,” Grouws said. “I think he saw that as opening the floodgates to a whole bunch of unqualified potential journalists, whereas I feel like that having more media tools available will lead to a lot of fresh new voices with some having very high journalistic standards.”

Other audience members reacted more positively to this part of Koppel’s speech. Andrew Lindstrom (‘19) is the sports director and hosts a show on KWLC. Lindstrom agreed with Koppel and said it is our fault as a society that we have allowed mass media to lower journalistic standards by prioritizing things like partisan panels.

“We as viewers have been watching and viewing these cheap panels over the years, and because we are watching them we are not able to obtain real, true news,” Lindstrom said. “Because of that, a lot of the fake news has been our fault because we continue to watch this cheap fake news [the panels], which was my main takeaway from the lecture.”

Koppel also talked a lot about the decline of the correspondents, especially foreign correspondents, citing that ABC, the network at which Koppel worked, has seen a self-inflicted decline in foreign correspondents from 35 to five over the past few decades. According to Koppel, this leads to more coverage of domestic news and less coverage of foreign news on American stations. It was this point that struck a lot of people’s interest, including the interest of Professor of Political Science Michael Engelhardt.

“I was very interested in the decline of coverage of foreign news,” Engelhardt said. “The number was striking at how much of a radical change they made in terms of the number of people who covered foreign news.”

Koppel closed both the workshop and the lecture by highlighting the role of the consumer in this age of democratized news media.

“The overriding message was that we, as consumers of news, are responsible for holding news agencies and journalists to the standards we expect,” Christman said. “This means that if we are willing to settle for unresearched, opinion-based, shallow reporting, then that is what we will get, and it is indeed what we are getting now. [Koppel] warned that retreating into these isolated silos of misinformation fundamentally imperils the core of our democratic system, which relies on informed voters in order to function well.”

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