Sam Donaldson — The new media wields a double-edged sword

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EL PASO, Texas — Innovations in technology —more specifically the Internet— have changed every aspect of media, transforming journalism into a swift double-edged digital sword, according to veteran ABC News reporter Sam Donaldson.

Donaldson told students at his Alma Mater, the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) Tuesday that, “Everyone today thinks they are a journalist. Everyone shoots off their mouths on the Internet. To some extent this is a problem. I would prefer to listen to someone who is presenting stuff that is factual.”

Veteran reporter, Sam Donaldson, talking to UTEP students at Borderzine's lab. (David Smith-Soto/Borderzine.com)

Veteran reporter, Sam Donaldson, talking to UTEP students at Borderzine's lab. (David Smith-Soto/Borderzine.com)

The borderland native attended Texas Western College, now UTEP, and began his TV career in 1977 as a correspondent for ABC News. His credits include anchoring Primetime Live and 20/20 with Dian Sawyer.

During his long career Donaldson has covered U.S. presidents starting with Jimmy Carter and has witnessed the transformation of print and electronic journalism into digital media.

“I started out really in an era when all the sophisticated devices and the abilities to transmit information we have today weren’t there. I came into hard news thinking you lead with the lede.”

There are both advantages and disadvantage to the new media, he said. Newspapers are shrinking as they feel the effects of instantly available news online.

“In those days we had three news stations. You had to watch us. That was a great advantage. I am a member of the old media.”

Today news stations have to compete to get the audience and there are different kinds of stories in media mixed in to catch an audience, Donaldson said. The recent uproar surrounding the Wikileaks release of classified documents proves that the Internet has its disadvantages, he said.

“I thought that was pretty bad. I read the reporting on them in various publications. I thought there was a true national security breach when it came to the first dump of documents,” he said. “The second dump of documents is embarrassing, but I don’t see anything as a threat to national security. The person who leaked the documents should be prosecuted, but not the New York Times for publishing some parts of the documents.”

Along with learning how to write for media, upcoming journalists must learn that their sources must be credible and information has to be substantiated and factual. Donaldson gave advice as to how far a journalist can go to get stories. “I tell journalism students, if you ask a direct question and you get anything but a direct answer, you know there is a problem. If you know a person can give a direct answer, they would.”

Donaldson announced his retirement in 2009 after 42 years reporting for ABC News, but he still appears as a guest panelist on ABC’s This Week. He lives in McLean, Virginia with his wife Jan Smith.

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