Who Was Robert Novak and Why Should We Care?

A few weeks ago, the world of journalism and the world of politics lost one of its leading members and commentators. This man went under the radar of younger generations, but was a well-known voice to many coming of age in the second half of the 20th century.

Robert Novak, a longtime CNN columnist and journalist, died on Aug. 18, 2009. He was dubbed “The Prince of Darkness” by many of his colleagues for the often cynical tone in his writings. So why was this man such an important figure and why should we look to him for advice on the future of the journalism world?

Near the beginning of his 2007 memoir on his 50 years of reporting in Washington, he discussed his beginnings with the news field and why he chose the career he did. He essentially stated that he enjoyed being the “stirrer upper” of things, that he wanted to be the one who exposed scandals and did the often tedious work of keeping people honest.

While he is well known for his conservative views and opposition to the occupation of Iraq, he has been remembered since his death for one of the events in his life that he would rather not have been. Near the end of his career, he blew the cover off of the Valerie Plame scandal by exposing her identity as a CIA operative. This ordeal put a major damper on his image and he would never recover.

We need to look back on his legacy for advice on how journalism should be done because of the current state of flux that the industry is in. More and more newspapers are folding or going to completely online formats; twitter users and bloggers are now spreading news faster than major news outlets. The research and investigative nature is no longer present in the news that many people receive.

While I like to think of myself as happily embracing this change because of the massive amount of information the internet has to offer, I feel that it is jeopardizing our classic vision of what news and journalism should be.

It is not the fact that newspapers are going online that worries me, I think that can be just as informative as a hard copy; it is the way that people today are getting their news. With more options available, many people become lazy and only read what pops up on CNN’s homepage, their twitter searches, or their favorite bloggers.

Also, we too often see redundant news stories about things that have already happened or things that any normal news coverage should do, but there seems to be that next step missing. The “stirrer uppers” of the journalism world are not what they were decades ago. Newspapers used to expose scandals, do true investigative journalism, and stand for what journalism should: defending democracy.

There is a new book out that is dedicated to this idea by Alex Jones, entitled, “Losing the News”.

Jones is a specialist in studying the media and he has a dark view on where the news is headed.

While the internet is very much our friend for quick information and newspapers still do hold a place in society, they seem to be deteriorating and losing to the former of these two formats. Robert Novak was the image of what a journalist should be. He wasn’t afraid to say what people did not want to hear, and he was definitely not afraid to go against the grain of his own ideology.

This is what modern journalism is missing and the Novaks are what it needs back. You do not have to agree with his political views, I know I don’t in many senses, but what he stood for as a media figure is something that needs to be looked back upon as a reminder of what journalism is and why it is an honorable profession.