The future of news

This is the first of a multi-part series unfolding in the coming months about the future of news, media and entertainment as they relate to our civic and popular-culture lives.

Few topics are more important to our democracy, to elected officials seeking votes, investors seeking prosperity, companies seeking profit and voters and consumers seeking venues to be informed, entertained and inspired.

From the decline of the daily newspaper to the layoffs at CBS News to the demise of Air America, there is a challenge. From the explosion of social networking to the impact of Facebook and Twitter, there is opportunity. The magic will be made by those who master the merger of old and new with masses of consumers hungry for news, information, collaboration, community and fun.

We have entered another epoch of upheaval in politics and media. There is a clear lineage from William Paley leading the way from radio to television to Steve Jobs becoming a leading entertainment mogul. The great lesson I learned from Frank Sinatra when I worked with his talent agency was Sinatra’s enormous respect for his fans, for sharing great works of art through every form of media.

Americans today yearn for information to bring them more understanding and better lives. They hunger for the interaction of communities and collaboration. Television about Balloon Boy and the Salahis may fill up dead air, but the great fortunes are made from “Avatars,” iPods and residuals from “Law and Order.”

The history of news, media and entertainment is replete with examples of great profitability coming from epochal changes tapped by great figures of innovation and finance, attuned to the cultural and political tenor of the times, respectful of the tastes and desires of masses of people whose allegiance determines the winners and losers.

FDR pioneered politics through radio while the Murrow Boys broadcast the bombing of London. Kennedy pioneered politics through television while Paley created the crown jewel of CBS News.

Reagan moved effortlessly from movies to radio to television, while Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes built the colossus of Fox News. Obama mastered the media technologies of interaction and community, while venture capital soars to social networking and dictators fear the power of Twitter, Facebook and Google.

Ted Turner brought news to the far corners of the globe through CNN, while Brian Lamb brought democracy to the living rooms of the nation through C-SPAN.

There is a vital place in our democracy for the daily newspaper and the network news, which uniquely combine professional reporting of information and the broad sense of community.

There is a lost generation of reporters, producers, editors, publishers and war correspondents who have been laid off or bought out. They are the news equivalent of Sinatra singing Gershwin. Katie Couric is a good anchor, but it is absurd for one celebrity salary to decimate newsrooms and bureaus.

Why not a new paradigm using some of that celebrity salary to rehire that lost generation of journalistic talent, rebuilding world-class newsrooms, developing pool sharing with network affiliates and leading newspapers, interacting through social networking?

These and many other ideas will be shared in future essays based on interviews with venture capitalists, political leaders and media figures. Your ideas are most welcome.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at