Jim Newton knows a lot.
This fact sunk in on me as I listened to him talk about his latest books, Eisenhower: The White House Years and Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made, last week at Saint Anselm College.
Scribbling on my notepad like a crazy person, I was attempting to keep track of the historical timeline and also prevent the many questions that were coming into my mind from floating away.
The Los Angeles Times editor-at-large discussed the intricate workings of the era and fielded questions from the audience with ease. It was clear that this was a man with expert knowledge about the way American politics works.
I’m not an American history major — and though parts of the discussion of the strategic policies of the Eisenhower administration may have flew a bit too far over my head — I was eager to talk to Newton about what he thought of the current presidential election and where journalism might be headed.
After finishing his talk and signing copies of his book, I approached him to ask a few questions.
He recognized me and kindly said how he saw me in the audience writing furiously. Happy that the crazed scribbling was not in vain, I asked away: What follows is some of my chat with the accomplished newspaperman, author, and historian.
USA TODAY COLLEGE: You described how Eisenhower had “war-hero” qualities—brave, courageous, a man’s man, so to speak. Do presidents today need to have this quality?
Newton: There hasn’t been a war since WWII that’s been so triumphant, and so popular, so that played a large role in his appeal. But you still see this in places today. You see candidates like John McCain try to demonstrate these qualities, candidates who have completed service to their country. So I do still think it’s something people find appealing.
USATC: What can future presidents learn from Eisenhower?
Newton: They can learn from his ability to protect America’s interests abroad without military action. His economic record is important too. When he came to office, he was met with a ten billion deficit. Yet, he was the last president to leave office with a surplus. He encouraged economic growth.
USATC: What do you think about how modern media has been covering the election? Do we depend on too much “horse-race journalism”?
Newton: Every race gets covered in terms of horse-race, but through this a lot of issues have been fleshed out: economy, abortion, contraception, health, etc. The debates have been all on the Republican side, naturally, but two capable candidates have emerged.
USATC: What is your opinion on journalism’s shift to a digital format?
Newton: I think the beauty of modern digital communication is that it’s extraordinarily easy to find audience for speech. That’s good.
What’s sometimes suffers because of this is deep analysis. Stories are smaller, more selective. And as far as the future of journalism, it’s an economic crisis, not a journalism crisis. It’s all about how you connect the two.
USATC: Do you think people should pay to read news online?
Newton: Yes, I think people should.
And I think this will get better. More people read the LA Times than ever before, and they read us on web. Journalists are still finding stories, still reading, but we just have to figure out to make it a business.
I think it will be solved, probably not by the summer, though [laughs]. But there’s still demand for well reported, thoughtful news, and there’s still a supply of it today.
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