John F. Kennedy’s assassination forever changed every aspect of America. That includes journalism, for with the president’s death, live coverage was born.
Imagine if JFK had been shot today (USA Today did, in a very creative way). Everyone in Dealey Plaza would have had a smartphone. We would have had thousands of images, not just one Zapruder film. We would have had round-the-clock coverage in print, on TV, radio and the Internet. Some reports would be objective. Others would be partisan and biased. Few would engender trust.
But we would know who killed Kennedy. There would be no conspiracy theories. Someone or something in Dallas would have captured the murders on camera, just as the Boston Marathon bombers were identified from a sea of spectators in a matter of hours.
“It is unique in history,” said Dick Stolley, the journalist who bought the rights to the 26-second Zapruder film for Life Magazine, in a recent interview with the Hartford Courant about the recording. “On 9/11, there were some amateurs using iPhones and all the rest. Everybody out there in Dealey Plaza would have had a smartphone [today]. There would have been 1,000 pictures, not one.”
Life paid $150,000 for perhaps the most famous piece of citizen journalism in the world. Stolley, now 85, negotiated the deal.
Times have changed.
On the 50th anniversary of JFK’s passing, while journalists who covered the American tragedy are hailed as heroes, the journalism industry as a whole is held in lower esteem than it used to be.
We can change that.
“The men who create power make an indispensable contribution to the nation’s greatness, but the men who question power make a contribution just as indispensable, especially when that questioning is disinterested, for they determine whether we use power or power uses us.”
Those are the words of John F. Kennedy in a speech honoring Robert Frost on Oct. 26, 1963, at Amherst College in Massachusetts.
How far has America advanced since then?
The problems which this country now faces are staggering, both at home and abroad. We need the service, in the great sense, of every educated man or woman to find 10 million jobs in the next 2 1/2 years, to govern our relations—a country which lived in isolation for 150 years, and is now suddenly the leader of the free world—to govern our relations with over 100 countries, to govern those relations with success so that the balance of power remains strong on the side of freedom, to make it possible for Americans of all different races and creeds to live together in harmony, to make it possible for a world to exist in diversity and freedom. All this requires the best of all of us.
If John F. Kennedy were still alive, he would be 96. And saying we still have many roads to travel before we make a difference.
Photo credit: YouTube