Ottaway professor embraces journalism as a career
A steady snowfall did not stop nearly 100 people, mostly students, from attending the introduction of SUNY New Paltz's seventh James H. Ottaway Sr. professor of journalism, Martin Gottlieb, an award-winning investigative reporter who is the current weekend editor of The New York Times. Gottlieb proclaimed that he was hoping to provide students with “the skills to be courageous journalists and better writers.”
“If you like journalism,” said Gottlieb near the end of his comments, “you like being alive.”
“We hit the jackpot,” said college president Steven Poskanzer, in reference to Gottlieb's professorship. “He is an extraordinary journalist.”
And he has unique credentials also. Gottlieb has worked and flourished in three different worlds of journalism -- the tabloid press, the alternative press, and establishment news. He began as a reporter for The Record, a daily newspaper in suburban New Jersey. He then became a reporter and subsequently a top editor for New York Daily News, America’s most well known tabloid newspaper. At another point in his 35-year career he was a top editor at The Village Voice, America’s most famous alternative newspaper. Most recently, he has worked at the Times as the head of its investigative reporting team and then as an editor.
He is teaching a course called “Quality Journalism” for the spring semester. Gottlieb “exemplifies quality journalism,” added Poskanzer.
“It’s rare to find someone who has worked in such distinctly different areas of journalism,” said journalism professor Robert Miraldi who introduced Gottlieb and then hosted a 45-minute question-and-answer with him.
Gottlieb told the students that being able to choose the page one stories in the weekend New York Times was a “numbing” experience because 1.5 million people rely on him to make choices as to what is important. He told students that on a recent Monday, he had chosen two stories because, in part, they were exclusives that Times reporters had uncovered.
Gottlieb contrasted the choices that editors and reporters make at the Daily News and the Times. Laughingly, he recalled that the News’ cafeteria was a raucous place often in disarray where beer was sold. At the Times, the dining room is an elegant locale with a private chef. But, he noted, the News is a newspaper that fights for the people’s interests. The Times is more interested in providing important and balanced information for its readers.
He described working a the Daily News as “bizarrely great.” In 1974, he said, the News ran a headline during the Presidential election that said: “Ford to NY: Drop dead,” after President Ford had declined to offer money to the city for its bankruptcy troubles. When he went to the Times, Gottlieb had to write a story about whether the headline cost Ford the election since he lost New York by a scant margin.
Ford called Gottlieb and told him, “It sure did.” And Gottlieb reported Ford’s opinion how history could have been different.
Gottlieb addressed a concern many journalists have -- whether something will be lost as news moves increasingly online to the Internet. He is cheered by the fact that the number of readers is “dazzlingly larger.” But there are some disadvantages because advertising dollars are still not following readers and reporters have to file stories quicker for the web and this might cause quality to diminish.
He told students that they will have to learn how use a video camera as the transition to Web news goes forward. But, he stressed, quality journalism is still needed for democracy to work.