'Fire Hose of Information' Challenges News Consumers

A "fire hose of information" on the Internet has transformed journalism, but not always led people to connect meaningfully to news sources or each other, a leading television journalist told an audience at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy Tuesday evening.

"Does retweeting it or clicking on the 'Like' button constitute meaningful action?" asked Rome Hartman, executive producer of the new NBC News magazine "Rock Center," about the Kony 2012 video that spread online recently. "It's easy in this world to appear to be doing something when all you've really done is click the 'Like' button."

Hartman spoke after receiving the annual Futrell Award for Outstanding Achievement in Communications and Journalism, which honors Duke alumni. He graduated from Duke in 1977.

While he was an undergraduate, "there were three broadcast networks. There was no CNN, there was no Fox, there was no MSNBC, there was no ESPN. Everything about the profession I chose has changed since the years that I was at Duke. ... The information landscape when I left Duke was so different as to be unrecognizable."

Noting the recent proliferation of news sources beyond the traditional networks, Hartman said "the delivery of information is set up to reinforce rather than challenge our world view." He said news consumers now have a civic responsibility "to seek out news that comes from outside our comfort zone."

"We're acting as the keepers of our own gates," said Hartman, who joined NBC News last summer after launching and serving as executive producer of BBC World News America. Previously he oversaw the launch of "The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric" and wrote more than 100 reports for "60 Minutes." He's won a long list of journalism awards.

"Sometimes we take ourselves a little too seriously," he said about the mainstream news media, arguing that Jon Stewart "has put us to shame" in covering important issues in ways that appeal to a new generation of viewers. Television news needs to work harder to be both "worthy and watched," he said.

Also honored at the dinner event was Duke sophomore Lauren Carroll, who won the annual Melcher Family Award for Excellence in Journalism. Carroll, the university editor of the DukeChronicle, was recognized for her Chronicle article in April that examined the development of Duke Kunshan University in China.