Editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast speaks at UT

Sami Sparber

Hardly two minutes into his presentation Tuesday, John Avlon, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, granted journalism sophomore Fatima Espejo’s wish and dropped the now notorious F-word: “fake news.”

“I hope (Avlon) talks about the current political climate,” Espejo said prior to Avlon’s speech. “Particularly, I hope he discusses (President Donald) Trump’s relationship with the press.”

Avlon spent ample time addressing the challenges currently facing the industry — politics included — at the Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecture in Journalism.

“I do not consider the president and his attacks on journalism as anything remotely normal in American history,” Avlon said. “There has always been a natural tension between an administration and the press. But ideally, what drives journalists and people in public service are two sides of same coin — or at least they should be. They are both rooted in a sense of
civic commitment.”

Avlon said another obstacle journalism must overcome is reworking its business model.

“The simple fact is that a free press isn’t free,” Avlon said. “Independent journalism requires financial independence. It is therefore the job of our generation to confront changes in our economic model in a clear-eyed way, recognizing that if we don’t find a sustainable model together, there are powerful forces that will drift us into an era of pseudo-news at best.”

Avlon said differentiation among outlets is the key to success in today’s media climate. According to Avlon, The Daily Beast differentiates itself from competitors using a strategy often disparaged within the industry — intersectional journalism — which incorporates topics ranging frompolitics to pop culture.

“We can reach a young audience if we understand we have an obligation to entertain while we educate,” Avlon said. “If I get a young reader who comes in because they want to read a story about Beyoncé or Kanye or whoever and they bump into a story about ISIS or Russia or China’s ‘troll farms,’ that is providing a civic service. That is expanding a mind.”

Journalism sophomore Benjamin Henthorn said hearing the insights of a professional journalist is invaluable to his education.

“Every time I have the opportunity to go and listen to a professional journalist, I take it,” Henthorn said. “It’s the best way to learn the craft and what I need to do in order to jump in myself one day.”