NPR's Mara Liasson appears in Times series at the Chilmark Community Center Sunday
Mara Liasson was on deadline. She was trying to pack for her family's Vineyard vacation, which began a few days ago. And, she was monitoring her email. The last thing she needed was a long list of questions from a Martha's Vineyard Times reporter, writing a story about her planned appearance Sunday evening at the Chilmark Community Center.
Ms. Liasson's discussion of her career as a journalist and now the national political correspondent for National Public Radio is the second event in a series of three, sponsored by The Martha's Vineyard Times, in cooperation with the community center. The first of the series was anchored by Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday. Ms. Liasson often appears on Fox News as a panelist.
"This is all I have time for. I am on deadline and have to pack. Help!" Ms. Liasson wrote to The Times reporter seeking answers to several questions.
The first question: News and opinion appear to have merged. Is it fatal?
"I hope not," was her reply.
The Times series is entitled "Journalists Report on Journalism and the News." It was intended, according to Times managing editor Nelson Sigelman, who conceived the idea, to encourage "journalists to talk about the challenges and rewards of the news gathering business and its future."
In May, The Times passed a quarter century milestone. "Over those 25 years," Mr. Sigelman said this week, "The Times has focused on the issues that are important to the Island's year-round and seasonal residents by providing a weekly blend of community news. And it has proven a successful formula, despite tough competition. But the ways the Vineyard and the world receive news are changing.
"The community center series," he said, "is to celebrate a quarter century of publishing. It features experienced journalists from several different types of media, all with a personal connection to the Vineyard. The journalists will speak about what they do, how they do it, and what changes they expect to see in the years ahead."
Ms. Liasson's reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines, All Things Considered and Morning Edition. She provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, D.C., and on political trends beyond the Beltway.
Early in her career, Ms. Liasson worked as a summer reporter for Times editor Doug Cabral, who was managing editor of the Vineyard Gazette at the time. She joined NPR in 1985, as a general assignment reporter and newscaster and from 1989-1992 was NPR's congressional correspondent. She won the White House Correspondents Association's Merriman Smith Award for daily news coverage in 1994, 1995, and again in 1997.
Next question was, Do you blog? "Only when asked by my editors, which is rarely." Is blogging merely opinion? "Not always." Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but whose opinions ought to be respected? "Hmmm. You'd have to read a lot of blogs and figure that out for yourself."
Ms. Liasson is of the school of opinion that holds that journalists should ask the questions, rather than answer them, especially when she's packing.
Will news reporters from now on be entitled, not only to their opinions, but also to air their opinions on blogs, TV news talk programs, and YouTube? "I certainly hope not."
Now, a question on politics: If NBC and NPR favor liberal views and FOX favors the other end of the spectrum, is it wrong to say so? "I am a real antediluvian in this respect. I really try to keep the (very few) opinions I hold out of my reporting. But if a news organization (and I disagree with your assumption about NPR) decides to just go for it and plant itself at one end of the spectrum or another, yes they should admit it."
Will news consumers never get tired of news people talking and writing about the same thing all the time? "I think they already are."
Mr. Wallace's appearance on July 10 attracted more than 200 people to the community center. He discussed his career, which included work at the Boston Globe, NBC, ABC, and now Fox. He also offered his analysis of the presidential election prospects of Senators Barack Obama and John McCain.
Another question: Will news consumers ever tire of listening to views with which they agree. "Yes."
Will they ever again just turn the page or turn a dial and come across something they didn't know or care about, but - surprise - find interesting? "Yes! I hope so, otherwise I wouldn't be doing this."
But Ms. Liasson admitted that journalism is what she likes doing.
Last question: Is this how you always thought it would be? "Nope. I never could've imagined this. But it's a pretty great business to be in. I feel lucky every day."
The third and last session of The Times series will be anchored by Charles Sennott. Mr. Sennott left the Boston Globe this spring to become executive editor and vice president of Global News Enterprises, the first US-based website devoted exclusively to international news. Global News Enterprises is set to launch early next year. He began at the Globe in 1993, serving as the paper's Middle East bureau chief in Jerusalem and as the European bureau chief in London. Most recently, he documented the rise of the Taliban and the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden.
A seasonal Island visitor, Mr. Sennott is the author of three books and has won several awards, including the Livingston Award for National Reporting and the Foreign Press Association Story of the Year.
Ms. Liasson's appearance is July 20, at 8 pm, at the Chilmark Community Center. There is no charge.