Howell Raines is the former executive editor of the New York Times who left in disgrace after he oversaw his paper's handling of the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal. Now that he's no longer in the media, he can preach about journalism, give speeches, and write a book. The book he is promoting is called "The One that Got Away: A Memoir," an allegory about his life using fish metaphors.
At the Aspen Institute, Raines said newspapers should no longer write at the "sixth-grade level," but instead try to write in a more sophisticated style. He also discussed how Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch perpetuates the myth of a "liberal conspiracy in the news business."
Raines also explored the purpose of newspapers and how they are changing. At The New York Times, he hoped to bring a more lyrical approach to writing. The old model of simplicity was no longer sufficient for readers.
"The World War II model that you write at a sixth-grade level became obsolete because of changes in society," Raines said. He noted that readers now are more educated and demand a more sophisticated product.
He was also critical of the consumer approach to journalism, particularly media moguls like Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch heads News Corp., which owns Fox News and Myspace.com, among other organizations.
"He has perpetrated the idea that there has been a liberal conspiracy in the news business," he said. "The degradation in the information marketplace is a threat to journalism."
There is a sacred bond between newspapers and readers that promises "we will find out as much as we can and tell you as much as we can," Raines said.
Newspapers may be shifting to a digital future because of declining readership and ad revenues, but he is hopeful that books will never be read on a computer.
"People don't want to sit at a screen and read a book," he said.
One audience member asked about the role of media leaks. Raines opted not to go in-depth since he no longer is a working journalist, but offered a bit of a leak of his own:
"Almost all leakers are lawyers. That's the bottom line."