By Mehek Ahmed
On Wednesday November 15, 2017, Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism hosted its outstanding My Life As Speaker Series: A Conversation with Ted Koppel. This took place in the Staller Center For the Arts with a high viewer turnout. Ted Koppel is a prominent figure of worldwide, British and American journalism while being an erudite spokesperson. Koppel is a legendary managing editor and news anchor of ABC News’ Nightline. His astonishing efforts in his iconic broadcast career include winning forty-two Emmy Awards and overseas press club awards.
Koppel left Nazi Germany with his parents and went to boarding school in England at a young age during the 1940s. “Most attempted escapes were by me at British boarding school,” he said about studying in England. Later, he moved to New York as a teenager.
When comparing American and British influence growing up he says, “US and Great Britain are two nations separated by a common language. In England, you go to have a piss. I didn’t know what to expect in a New York high school. America has very nice people with a sense of humor.” Koppel went to college at only 16 and was proficient French and German.
Like many triumphant broadcasters, Koppel had a role model at only the age of 8 which was Edward Murrow, a radio broadcaster during the McCarthy era. Since then, Koppel knew his dream to become a journalist. He reported the Iranian Hostage Crisis. From those days, a nightly special of “America Held Hostage” was held, becoming an “American obsession.” Eventually, Koppel and the producers created Nightline. Additionally, Koppel traveled when reporting for Nightline and brought Palestinians with Israelites together and white with blacks during the apartheid.
When asked about his most passionate moments as a broadcast journalist, Ted Koppel responded with being a news correspondent during events that marked history. He spoke about reporting and writing stories at Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia during the Vietnam War. He also spent time with Mikhail Gorbachev and his last moments in office as the “Soviet flag came down, and the Russian flag rose,” he recalls. Moreover, Koppel reported Dr. Martin Luther King and decided to march with the crowd. People were “hosed and beaten.” Koppel also met South-African
anti-apartheid revolutionary, Nelson Mandela. Although he was an extraordinary man, Nelson Mandela was not who he once was and “protected” by the media the twenty-six years he was in jail, according to Koppel.
A crucial topic that was acclaimed by the audience during his interview was discussing the democratization of journalism in modern society. Koppel expresses his stance on the fate of journalists. Specifically, Koppel conducted an interview with President Trump during his nomination in summer of 2016. President Trump said in his interview with Koppel that he already has a strong social media base with millions of followers and doesn’t need people like Ted as an intermediate. Today, there is an ordeal overtake of reporting rigidly on blogs and social media. “Modern media is a voracious animal,” he says, “social media can find every little detail.”
Unfortunately, millennials will not have the same experiences of journalism during Koppel’s time. Careers in recent journalism lack field crew experience due to technology with no opportunities to report with multiple sources or put something in context.
Despite the modern issues with journalism, Koppel encourages young people to keep pursuing journalism because it’s an enjoyable experience of travel, asking questions to powerful leaders, and writing stories about fundamental events occurring in the world.
“People are going to watch what they want instead of what they need,” when talking to the younger audience regarding political spectrums in bipartisanship, “they are never gonna get true journalism no matter left or right unless you demand it.”
Now, Koppel is a columnist of The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, a news analyst for NPR, and senior contributor to the CBS morning show. Koppel is doing a piece with his wife for CBS on Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend on the 26th of November. He will be raising awareness on COPD, a lung disease that causes difficulty breathing in the elderly and cannot be cured.
“I learned a lot becoming a reporter,” reflects Koppel, “There’s a gigantic difference between writing a story that will be forgotten in three days and reporting a story that marks a time in society. Don’t deflect ideology from fact.”