Is quality journalism dead? Or just being painfully reborn? Steve Coll is the best person I could think of to mull these questions over in a turbulent, disruptive age. The internet has shattered the traditional newspaper business model. The storied Graham family recently said “uncle” and sold the Washington Post to Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Unpaid, online ranting is driving out the cultural space once occupied by expensive investigative reporting. And a mix of despair, anxiety and nostalgia has settled on newsrooms across the land.
Coll spent 20 years at the Washington Post, where he was a reporter, foreign correspondent and, for six years, managing editor. He then served for five years as president of the New America Foundation, an innovative, “radically centrist” think tank in DC. While doing these day jobs, he also managed to report and write six big, award-winning books, including “Ghost Wars” on the secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (and for which he won one of his two Pulitzer Prizes); “The Bin Ladens – An Arabian Family in the American Century,” and “Private Empire,” on Exxon-Mobil. He’s also a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker.
Coll recently took the helm as dean of the Columbia Journalism School, where he’s facing the future of journalism head on.
I’ve known and admired Coll for years. He’s incredibly thoughtful on where all these trends in the news business are taking us and he’s one of those people who always seemed a living embodiment of the Army’s old TV ads – as in, “Steve Coll does more before 9am than most of us do in a lifetime.” But he’s such a decent person you can’t hate him for it! In our talk he even reveals the secret of his peerless productivity.
Coll hosted me in the broadcast studios on Columbia’s campus.