Columbia Daily Spectator Annual Awards Dinner
February 4, 2012
State of the Spectator
By Samuel E. Roth – As prepared for delivery
Good evening, everyone, and thank you again for joining us tonight. This is, I believe, my last official act as editor in chief emeritus—which means it’s going to be a lot harder to arrange for glowing coverage of my remarks in Monday’s paper.
Nevertheless, I sincerely appreciate that all of you could make it out this evening. It means so much that Spectator has such an active and engaged body of alumni and so many generous friends. Certainly, looking back on my time, it’s nice to know that I’ll be able to reconnect with my old Spec friends at events like these in the future.
In the last few years, the State of the Spec has been largely determined by forces outside our control. There’s no question that the landscape for media organizations is shifting. But it’s become clear that the public’s hunger for information and thoughtful commentary hasn’t diminished—in fact, it’s only grown. The same is true for the communities we serve—the Columbia community, Morningside Heights, and West Harlem.
So Spectator is expanding the ways in which we connect with our readers. We’re more aggressively promoting our stories on platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr. An increasing number of those stories are told through video, audio, and graphics, so we’re proud to have finally created a Spectator department for multimedia. Our news blog, Spectrum, is in its third year of 24/7 operation and ensures we’re bringing Spectator’s brand of informed, accountable journalism to the internet—and breaking Columbia news faster than anybody else.
Although, if any of the larger New York newspapers think they can beat us in print, they’d better not rest on their laurels. The December 8 edition of the New York Times had a story about Columbia’s as-yet unsuccessful search for a new head football coach. Whereas our December 8 edition announced the new head coach would be Pete Mangurian.
We’ve been proud to regularly break national news, on stories ranging from the passage of a GI Bill grandfather clause that would keep veterans in school, to the marching band’s controversial tangles with the athletics administration, to Mahmoud Ahemadinejad’s plans to meet undergraduate students for dinner when he came to New York last fall.
But while it’s nice to be picked up by national newspapers—or, equally likely, re-tweeted—I don’t think that’s why anyone here tonight joined Spectator. In my time at the newspaper, everyone I’ve met has been animated by a genuine and deep-seated interest in Columbia—its students and administration, its performers and athletes, its employees and neighbors, its history and its future—and we are united by a common belief that the way to make all of these things better is to shine the light of inquiry, to educate our readers and listen to their opinions, to begin a conversation.
As the University expands uptown and across the globe, it crosses the threshold of a millennial moment. But what, I think, distinguishes Columbia among top-flight American universities is the critical attention we pay to how the University operates and who gets left out of its successes. That is as true today as it was in 1968 and 1962 and 1877.
It’s thanks to your support that Spectator is able to keep looking into dark corners and asking the difficult questions—the way we have for one hundred and thirty-six years.
Before we get to our speakers, who have indulged me very patiently, we have one more bit of old business to attend to. A week ago, Tom Vinciguerra, class of 1985, wrote to tell us about an old Spec dinner tradition—that the outgoing editor in chief would present his successor with a wooden cane, inscribed with the names of editors in chief from 1922 to 1935. The cane now belongs to the Rare Books library, but we thought it would be a good idea to start that tradition up again, so we borrowed it. And I know you’ve already heard a lot about the importance of diversity tonight, but it’s worth remembering that with Sarah and Maggie, we’ll finally be engraving women’s names on the cane. Sarah, would you join me up here?
After that, I won’t even try for a meaningful conclusion, except to say this—Spectator has a very high turn-over rate. In fact, our whole staff changes every four years. It would be easy to think that, in the face of constant change, the work of past Speccies is lost or forgotten. It isn’t. My thanks to you all for building this institution with year after year of hard work. It wouldn’t be what it is today without all of you. For that, and for your continued support, thank you.
And finally, some quick background on our speakers tonight. Julius Genachowski graduated from Columbia in the class of ‘85. At Spectator, he was editor of Broadway Magazine, a predecessor to what’s now The Eye. From Columbia, Julius went on to Harvard Law School, where he was notes editor for the Harvard Law Review. Through late nights and pickup games of basketball, he became close with the editor of the review at the time, who had graduated from Columbia the year before. The editor’s name was Barack Obama. Which is to say, if any of my colleagues on the 135th volume wind up president—but I digress. After graduating in 1991, Julius worked as a clerk in the federal courts, a Congressional staffer, and general counsel at the Federal Communications Commission. After a successful private-sector career at companies like InterActive Corp and LaunchBox Digital, Julius returned to the FCC in 2009 as chairman. As commissioner, Julius has championed the important cause of net neutrality to guarantee that everyone in this country has equal access to the internet. He’s worked tirelessly to bring high-speed internet access to as many Americans as possible and coordinated with service providers to reduce prices and subsidize equipment for low-income households. He’s been a strong defender of competition between wireless companies and, just this week, he unveiled the Obama administration’s new push to bring digital textbooks to America’s public schools.
He’ll be interviewed tonight by Steve Waldman, class of ‘84. Steve worked alongside Julius at Spectator, where he was editor in chief in 1983. He worked with Julius again as a senior advisor at the FCC, where he took the lead on an influential report on the future of journalism. Before taking that post, Steve was National Correspondent for Newsweek, an editor at The Washington Monthly, and national editor of U.S. News & World Report. In 1999, he founded Beliefnet.com, a religion and spirituality website that became one of the largest of its kind. In 2007, after five years with Steve as CEO, the site won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence Online. For his work, Steve was named one of the nation’s top spiritual innovators by Time Magazine. Now, he’s a visiting scholar at the Columbia Journalism School and, rumor has it, he’s readying a new internet venture.
And with that, gentlemen, I’ll turn it over to you.