Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Exclusive Q & A with Nick Clooney: Reel Journalism "State of Play"

I've never met a man who liked to talk more than Nick Clooney. The best part is, if he were to read that statement he'd probably laugh and say "I know there was a compliment in there somewhere." Rest assured he was one of the finest professors I've ever had the privilege of working with.

AU SOC post-graduation celebration, 2009.

In fact, he'll admit he does enjoy a good long winded answer. My favorite quote from last night the was, "You ask with a two word question and I answer with a three page answer." True enough.

Nick and I got to catch up for a few minutes and talk journalism with his wife Nina along to listen in last night before the Reel Journalism's final installment of the 2010 season with "State of Play".

Here are a few highlights from that conversation:

Rachel: This is your second year moderating the Reel Journalism series. How do you think it’s going so far under your watch?
Nick Clooney:
Actually it’s not just my watch, which I should make that perfectly clear. This is a corporate effort from a lot of us. Putting it together, trying to find the proper mix, trying to find the kind of person who loves movies and loves news. Not always that easy to find. But I really feel that its holding up well as to content. As far as my performance is concerned somebody else will have to judge that ..whether I’m running out of gas or not at this age.

I must say that this year has been a remarkably interesting year and some of them have been serendipitous in the sense that we ended up with Brian Williams on the very day that the Haiti story broke.

He … I have to salute him. He stuck it out. He promised he would be here and he was here and then left immediately to head down to Haiti that very night from this very Newseum. So you know, it’s been interesting.

We’ve had a great time. And all of them have been great. We put our toe into Tabloid lastweek or last time rather and that turned out very interesting … very firey, so it was good.

R: Are there any specific one’s that stand out in your mind as being – besides the Brian Williams one because I was there for that one and I saw you know the context. Everything, it was breaking and that was the fun part about being there because you actually got to see the news side of what we were talking about in the series which is the whole point of having a series like this is to make people you know more aware of the news and what’s going on and get them excited about it again. That’s why movies are fun because you’re like “Oh yeah, journalism you know that’s fun they do it in the movies but it’s also real life.” But are there any ones that stick about besides that one.

N: Oh yes, yes so many of them .. some of them not as well known perhaps like Frank Mancowicz coming and just .. You know his uncle wrote “Citizen Kane” and his telling first person stories about the young 25-year-old Orson Welles appearing at the door of his uncle’s house, no wonder he drank. It was just a remarkable time and wonderfully told byFrank who has had such a background in news and with of course NPR he was an absolute giant in rejuvenating NPR, making it something special and so that was a very important one to me. When I first heard we were going to do "Citizen Kane" I wasn’t sure how we weregoing to do that so I think eventually those who decided how to do this, it was not I in this case, but they got Frank Mankiewicz and then they got Tom Shales. So Tom gave us the critical take on where "Citizen Kane" fits in all of the film. So it was an interesting time.

But you know, everyone of these as I look back on them … then I remember when Carl Bernstein was here for “All The President’s Men”, and I’ve just been very lucky to be able to sit across from these folks and listen to their stories, Bob Schieffer, Susan Zirinsky .. She was so funny describing with Bob … I was shocked that Bob liked "Broadcast News". I would’ve thought that would’ve been the last film he would’ve enjoyed because it’s the one that causes news, particularly anchormen to have to answer embarrassing questions, “Are you really just an automaton with somebody talking into your ear everything you’re supposed to say,” so it’s great.
And all of them have been interesting in one way or another whether Cokie Roberts or any …it’s been very instructive to me.

R: How so?

N: Because I now see how my contemporaries, my colleagues, the folks that I worked with or around all that period of time, how they really felt about it at the time contemporainiously. We didn’t.. I did not know that exactly how they viewed what their job was whether it was really vitally important at a very dangerous time or were we just voyeurs on the passing parade. And vary views of those some of those didn’t think we didn’t a very good job at what we did.

R: Are there plans to keep the Reel Journalism series with you on-tap going through the next through years or what are the plans for that?

N: That’ll be of course up to the Newseum but we are now planning for next year, but we are planning for next year if that’s your question. We are indeed. We had a planning session today.

R: Any changes to the standard set-up that we have here, you know the typical Q & A and the film and that stuff or any new additions or something like that?

N: Well I think we will look at it each time there might be a little … might address some changes both in the kinds of people we bring in and what the films might be and how else we might approach the film and news, that intersection, but I think generally speaking were pleased with the way they format has gone so far.

We have an awful lot of people interested in news coming to this as you know, you have been there and are one of the people who have asked some of these questions and we illicit some questions particularly from this community that are, I mean, very professional. These folks know what they’re talking about and so it’s great stuff.

R: Yeah, I would say the audience each time … I’m trying to keep track of the demographics of the audience and I feel like it’s been pretty steady you know there’s a whole lot of AU students and then just general news consumers from throughout the city. What would you think … are there any other people you want to try … not to target people but people you want to encourage to try and come to these kinds of events.

N: You bet. No, I can’t think of anybody I wouldn’t encourage to come to this.

R: Right because it’s our responsibility as people in this country to actually know what’s going on in the world.

N: Yes, and if we can walk around town with a town crier’s bell and go up in each neighborhood and say that loudly and clearly, you know “it is your job.”

R: As you know, I have an American University background, I was a print journalism major and I find that you know D.C. has turned into a giant convergent media hub. This place is running rampant with new blogs every day. Neighborhood blogs, D.C. blogs, community blogs – this is basically where things are going on – and D.C. is a unique spot because you know people from all over the world and this entire country kind of stakes its claim right here. Do you think that this an example of what’s next in news … what’s happening here in D.C.?

N: I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t want to pretend. I don’t want to pretend that I know what’s next in news. What you have just said to me however is very interesting bc what you’ve described is new media as being a stepping stone to a position in old media. That’s what you just described a moment ago. So what you’re saying to me is the new media quite properly is using old media as … to disseminate the information or to gather the information and their using them as their news source. Question is how do we sustain the old media so that it will be there so that you will have something on which to lean or from which to launch. So it will be very interesting to see .. maybe that’s one of the things that people will be looking at … some kind of a marriage between the old and the new and trying to sustain the old in order to nurture the new.

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