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My Dad at Harvard

posted by Nell Minow

My wonderful dad, Newton Minow, was honored at Harvard this week for half a century of public service in working to make the greatest amount of choice and the broadest range of media resources available.  He talked about the five decades that have taken us from three networks with 15 minutes a day of national news programming operating under the “fairness doctrine” to the plugged-in, omni-media world we live in now.  As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, remember that they occurred before YouTube and Twitter.  He reminded the audience that the debates about media have evolved but the issues remain:

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“Television had become the dominant form of communication in our country, but there had been very little discussion about what that meant in terms of public responsibility and public interest. I was determined to start that discussion, even though I knew my speech would not be well-received,” he said, adding that his speech prompted Gilligan’s Island executive producer Sherwood Schwartz to name the ship that ran aground “the S.S. Minnow.”

Minow believes that the problems that plagued television and communication 50 years ago are still present today. He said that the discussion of public responsibility that was missing then is still neglected now….

“When President Kennedy gave his Cuban Missile Crisis speech, there were no pundits on after he gave it. They cut back to regular programming, so the public could absorb it,” she said. “I don’t know what we do about the fact that we need the public to push the country to social and political change, and leadership needs that relationship to get the public engaged, but the media has made that difficult.”

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A webcast of the event, which featured Jonathan Alter of Bloomberg and Anne Marie Lipinski (formerly editor of the Chicago Tribune) is on Harvard’s site.  Now he is in Washington, D.C., where he will go to the White House for the kick-off of one of his most recent and most important projects, the Digital Promise (now called the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies).

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