O'Shea discusses changes in journalism field

Emily Files '14

October 14, 2011

Accomplished journalist James O’Shea told Emerson Journalism students that they can make a difference in their careers by being entrepreneurial rather than following a traditional journalism path during a lecture he gave at the Paramount Center’s Jackie Liebergott Black Box Theatre on October 12. O’Shea formerly served as managing editor of the Chicago Tribune and editor-in-chief of the Los Angeles Times, two of the nation’s largest newspapers.

In his lecture, he recounted the unusual path he took to becoming a journalist. He began his career as an electrician, went on to be an army correspondent, and finally got his first newspaper job as a reporter for the Des Moines Register in Iowa.

James O'Shea
James O'Shea started the Chicago News Cooperative, a non-traditional, non-profit, online news source.

He eventually worked his way up to managing editor at the Chicago Tribune, and that was when O’Shea said he started to see a darker side of the news industry. He said he was pressured, both at the Tribune and later at the Los Angeles Times, to make budget cuts. At the Tribune, he said he tried his best to meet budget needs while avoiding layoffs. At the Times, he expressed his beliefs that generating revenue was the answer to solving the paper’s financial problems, not laying off staff, and fought against what he thought was wrong. He said he was fired as a consequence.

“There are going to be times as a journalist when you have to make decisions [about whether to do things] that go against what you believe in,” O’Shea said.

After his tenure at the Times, O’Shea decided to try something different from traditional news and started the Chicago News Cooperative, an independent news organization that focuses on the news that major papers aren’t reporting. O’Shea said his decision to start the cooperative is an example of the kinds of entrepreneurial opportunities available to journalists today.

“Journalists now have the opportunity to start something new. They don’t have to do what corporations want. If you believe in journalism, you have a whole world in front of you of things you can try,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea also emphasized the importance of reporting, not repeating. Reporting is learning the story first-hand, by going to the sources and talking to people, he explained. Repeating is simply getting the facts from news that has already been published. O’Shea said that with budget and staff cuts, many traditional news sources are repeating instead of reporting.

Students attending O’Shea’s presentation said they found his ideas about journalism inspiring. “It was very refreshing to see a journalist who didn’t compromise his own beliefs during his career,” said Bianca Buono ’14.