Legendary journalist visits students at USF

Ralph Lowenstein during his two-part lecture at USF. Photo by Tyrah Walker.

It was 1976 when journalist Ralph Lowenstein became the third dean of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications. It was during his time there that he foretold the future of print.

“Print on paper is dead,” said Lowenstein. He predicted that classified advertising would evaporate completely from the printed pages. Not only did he correctly predict classified advertising, but he also predicted that electronic communication would become the new wave.

This prediction earned him the nickname “Prophet Professor.

Now, 41 years later, Lowenstein is sharing his wisdom with future journalists and editors at the University of South Florida (USF).

In an intimate setting inside the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications, Lowenstein stood in front of students and faculty, and spoke on his past experiences in journalism. Lowenstein spoke numerous times on the history of newspapers during his lecture.

Several issues were discussed during his two-part lecture. Part one focused on Lowenstein’s early adult years, education and co-writing the book, “Viva Journalism: The Triumph of Print in the Media Revolution.” He also shared valuable lessons he learned as a young journalist in an era when newspapers dominated how people obtained their news.

Even though he predicted the future of electronic newspapers, Lowenstein also spoke on how they can become better.

“One problem with the electronic newspaper is it’s not really readable,” Lowenstein said. “When you go into it, you want to know what the latest news is. You don’t want to know what happened 12 hours ago or 15 hours ago and that’s what you’re getting.”

Lowenstein explained to guests how classifieds were the “bread and butter” of the newspaper. Advertisements brought in most of the newspapers daily income. Once news became more popular electronically, advertisements began to slowly decline. Lowenstein believes electronic newspapers have failed to include ads successfully.

“Advertising is news in certain circumstances,” he said. “I think people really do want advertising.”

Another problem with most electronic newspapers, according to Lowenstein, is the death of the gatekeeper.

Lowenstein explained that gatekeepers determine what does or does not go into the newspaper. In his youth, gatekeepers made the newspapers readable and factual. There were fewer reporting errors back when newspapers used them. Today there are too many errors that could be avoided if media outlets had the much needed gatekeeper.

In Lowenstein’s opinion, there is a lack of professionalism in the world of journalism. How do we become more professional with journalism as a whole? According to Lowenstein, it goes back to having a gatekeeper.

“Many newspapers have locked off a lot of the editors [out] of the way so the information goes from the reporter into the newspaper,” said Lowenstein. “It’s a horrible thing to see.”

Part two of Lowenstein’s lecture opened up with the latest trending topic in the media: Richard Spencer.

Recently the University of Florida allowed Spencer to hold a speech despite the belief to many of him being a white supremacist. UF students and Gainesville citizens showed up to his speech and protested against him and his followers.

This part of Lowenstein’s lecture allowed students to be more engaged. He opened up the discussion by informing students about the First Amendment and its exceptions. He then asked students whether it should protect everyone – including white supremacists and “hardcore racists.”

Lowenstein even shared his opinion about the event and how UF could have handled the situation differently.

“The university really acted improperly,” he said. “My feelings are pretty strong about that.”

The Richard Spencer topic left many in the room wondering how they would have reported the story if they were in attendance of the event. Journalist have a job to do, but how much coverage should media outlets give a figure like Spencer?

Both students and professors gave their opinions on the subject matter. There seemed to be a mutual agreement that it’s important to cover all angles of the story no matter the position of the reporter.

“It was never really in the paper properly,” said Lowenstein. “I think there were who defended his right to speak…those were the people who were quoted. There were no people like me who would not defend his right to speak.”

The lecture wrapped up by lunch with Lowenstein taking photos and sharing advice with students.