Expert Commentary

Shorenstein Center fall 2015 speaker series highlights: Snapchat, investigating race and more

Highlights of the fall 2015 event series at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, including Peter Hamby of Snapchat and Nikole Hannah-Jones of The New York Times Magazine.

(Nilagia McCoy, Shorenstein Center)
Peter Hamby (Nilagia McCoy, Shorenstein Center)

Throughout the academic year, Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy hosts panel discussions, a speakers series and other events, many of which feature prominent journalists and media personalities. The following are audio and video highlights from Fall 2015, with a focus on tips for journalists and reflections on the evolving media landscape:


Peter Hamby: “There’s this huge audience — we’re building an editorial structure on top of them and alerting them to things happening in the world.”

Peter Hamby, head of news at Snapchat, explained how this popular social media platform is helping connect media organizations and politicians with its audience of young people. Many Snapchat users are younger than 25 and do not heavily engage with traditional forms of media such as television and newspapers. Snapchat is able to reach around 15 million viewers a day with the help of media partnerships and user-generated content. Hamby noted that the photos and videos posted by Snapchat users can help media groups pursue story angles or explore certain aspects of an issue that they otherwise could not access. However, Hamby stressed the importance of fact-checking social media contributions, noting that Snapchat’s editorial team verifies the source of user-generated content.

Nikole Hannah-Jones: “My role is to expose these things to people who can and should do something about it.”

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, explained how exposing racial injustices through investigative reporting can help change social policy. Hannah-Jones said she tries to focus on how “inequality is explicitly and intentionally maintained through social policy.” She has reported extensively on segregation and discrimination in housing and education, and notes how such issues often provide a backdrop to the headline-grabbing protests and civil unrest that have taken place nationwide in recent years. She noted that newsroom diversity is key for media organizations to ensure quality reporting on such topics. She explained that the lack of a diverse newsroom means that “you miss out on access to communities.” Hannah-Jones also discussed the importance of providing readers with historical context and how to balance the sometimes competing factors of objectivity and emotion in news reporting.

Rick Kaplan: “People are looking for well-curated, serious, important news.”

Veteran TV news producer Richard N. Kaplan addressed the need for serious journalism in an era when the lines between entertainment and news are becoming increasingly blurred. Kaplan, who has worked for CBS, ABC, CNN and MSNBC and served as a consultant on HBO’s “The Newsroom,” challenged media organizations to hold a “higher opinion of the audience” and pursue quality journalism over frivolous entertainment-focused news. He pointed to a recent Republican candidates’ debate hosted by CNBC as an example of how he thought the network focused on providing entertainment over news. During the debate candidates were goaded into attacking one another at the expense of substantive questioning. Other topics discussed by Kaplan included the role of comedy in media and politics, the shifting fortunes of morning network TV news programs, and how presidential candidates work with the media to cultivate their image.

Jill Lepore: “American politics is adrift in a sea of polls.”

Jill Lepore, a history professor at Harvard and staff writer for The New Yorker, gave the 26th Theodore H. White Lecture on Press and Politics. In the lecture, Lepore raised concerns about the role of polls in the American political process and argued that the media’s overreliance on polls has caused political culture to be “frantic, short-sighted, sales-driven, and anti-democratic.” At a related panel discussion the day after her lecture, The Guardian columnist Gary Younge cautioned that relying on poll results without providing additional nuance and texture is “lazy journalism.” Pollster Peter Hart defended the use of polls as “exceptionally representative” of public opinion, despite some problems in the way polls are taken. Former CNN anchor Candy Crowley encouraged media organizations to train their journalists in the correct way to interpret and report on poll results.

Maria Sacchetti: “We have a special obligation to try to cover world news in the way we do local news.”

Boston Globe reporter Maria Sacchetti reflected on her experiences covering the international refugee crisis from Europe, explaining her goal to “try to cover world news in the way we do local news, in a very human, detailed way.” Although Syria and other war-torn countries in the Middle East are increasingly dangerous for journalists, Sacchetti has followed refugees from their arrival on the Greek island of Lesbos through Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. She argued that covering the human stories behind the refugee crisis is essential in informing the American public about the situation and helping them understand the plight of refugees. As local newspapers struggle to provide foreign coverage, Sacchetti encouraged reporters to think of ways to “bring home” the story to readers by finding a local connection.


A full list of past Shorenstein Center events with audio recordings can be found in the calendar archive. You also can subscribe to the Center’s Media and Politics Podcast on iTunes to hear these and future conversations.


Keywords: Shorenstein Center, speaker series, Syria, refugees, Middle East, polls, political culture, investigative reporting, segregation, Snapchat



About The Author