Indiana Daily Student

Interview with ‘American media man’ Tom Plate

Book author worries about corporate growth

While most authors might hope their books will become blockbusters, reaching thousands or even millions of people, Tom Plate wrote his latest book for one person – his daughter.\n“When she was growing up, my daughter noticed her dad was away a lot, so I thought, ‘Some day she’ll have this to look back at what her dad was doing,’” he said.\n“Confessions of an American Media Man” is the story of Plate’s decades-long career in journalism, from his college internship at the Washington Post, to the internationally-syndicated column on Asian relations he writes to this day.\nPlate doesn’t grind axes in the book. If there’s a story to be told about a former boss who he might portray in an unflattering way, he merely refers to them as a “Higher Authority,” which adds to the more casual tone of the writing.\nThough he’s currently a professor of communication and policy studies at UCLA, Plate made it clear this book is not for academics.\n“It’s written to be accessible, to be entertaining,” he said.\nHe intersperses tales of his career with thoughts about the current state and future of journalism.\nAmong his top concerns is corporate ownership of newspapers. Plate believes newspapers have special responsibilities they cannot live up to if stockholders only look at the bottom line and are willing to cut back on costs to make it.\n“I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if a corporation insists on more than 10 percent profits, it should turn in its First Amendment right,” Plate said. “What differentiates newspapers from BMW, a cigarette company, a liquor company (or) a nut company is that they don’t get First Amendment protection.”\nNewspapers traditionally have much higher profit margins than other businesses. Many have 20 percent or greater returns, compared to 10 percent or less in many other industries.\nStill, Plate makes it clear he is not against newspapers making money.\n“I’m not against profits – I’m against profits at the cost of quality control,” he said.\nHe also criticizes objectivity, calling it “impossible to achieve.”\n“I’m not sure what objectivity means,” he said. “I think you can just use sources, be accurate and be fair in your reporting.”\nSubtitled “What they don’t tell you at Journalism School,” Plate’s book is also, not surprisingly, critical of journalism schools.\nPlate never attended journalism school, and after receiving his bachelor’s degree at Amherst College, went on to receive a master’s degree in U.S. foreign policy from Princeton, a degree not usually required in the media world.\nIn the book, he says the world is getting more complicated, and unless journalists become more educated about the world, they will be unable to accurately report about it.\n“Journalism school teaches you to ask the agricultural minister how corrupt he is and how long he’s been corrupt,” he said. “But the education I have teaches me ask, ‘How’s the agricultural plan going?’ and question-No. 7 I might say something about kickbacks from farmers. It’s a more professional and nuanced approach.”\nBut Plate’s book is also a cautionary tale. He warns that journalism is not for everyone, but it can be a fulfilling career for those who choose to pursue it.\n“The chances of having your heart broken are good, but try to do some good with it,” he said. “American journalism has a lot of leverage.”

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