A New Generation in the Press, Too

RICHARD REEVES

July 24, 1992|By RICHARD REEVES

New York. -- The historic new-generation nomination here this month has hundreds of well-known men and women, from World War II veterans to baby boomers, worried that the world and their own lives will never be the same. For some, for better or worse, this is the most important event of their professional lifetimes.

I'm not talking about 45-year-old Bill Clinton running against 68-year-old George Bush. No! Who knows how that will end in November? I'm talking about the generational revolution that has already happened: Tina Brown, 38, being named editor of the New Yorker.

The triumph of this Brown, no Jerry or Ron she, in winning the leadership of American's most important weekly journal of letters by one vote -- this convention had a single delegate, S.I. Newhouse, owner of the magazine and a lot more -- is symbolic of the fact that power in journalism has already passed to the young.

The three most important daily journals in the country are also now under the control of new leaders, too: Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., 40, of the New York Times; Peter R. Kann, 49, of the Wall Street Journal; and Donald E. Graham, 47, of the Washington Post. (If you are curious about how the press itself responds to questioning, both the Times and Journal initially refused to reveal the boss's age.)

At the Democratic National Convention, it was obvious that on the working level of the print press, baby boomers had overthrown the Broder generation, named for David Broder of the Washington Post, probably the most respected of American political journalists over most of the past 20 years.

The new generation was led by E.J. Dionne Jr. and Thomas Edsall of the Post and Alan Ehrenhalt of the Journal, who simply outflanked their elders by channeling their political thoughts and frustrations into books that took political correspondence to levels or heights not seen around Washington for many years. There are a lot of them out there now, and this list is partial: Joe Klein, Barbara Ehrenreich, Michael Barone, Sidney Blumenthal, Howard Fineman, Doyle McManus, Jane Mayer, Alessandra Stanley . . . very, very good people.

They are some of the people to watch now, rather than Rather. There has been a great deal of generational turmoil in television, too, but much of the tube's public power is being abandoned by new, younger producers whose thoughts and roots are in entertainment. Mention history to television's new breed and they start talking about ''The Brady Bunch'' -- firing or downgrading their best political correspondents, beginning with Ken Bode at NBC and Bruce Morton at CBS.

It may mean something that, in decline, the dons of political journalism are seen more and more on television -- Broder, Jack Germond, Bob Novak play at being, respectively, wise and lovable and grouchy old uncles. Younger uncles, my generation, the Depression-born Silent Generation -- there are only 49 million of us compared with the 63 million people of the World War II generation and 79 million boomers -- seem fated to glide silently into obscurity in both journalism and politics. That is, judging by the careers of our presidential possibilities, Walter Mondale, Gary Hart, Jerry Brown, Mario Cuomo, Jack Kemp -- and Ross Perot.

It seems obvious that for Mr. Clinton and his running mate, Sen. Al Gore, 44, the younger the national press corps, the better. Cohorts, people of the same generation, see the world through the same windows, having shared feelings and experience over their lifetimes -- to say nothing of the same music and the same war, Vietnam. That goes double for Mr. Gore, who was once a reporter himself.

Albert J. Gore Jr., his byline then, was a police reporter and city hall correspondent for the Nashville Tennessean from 1971 to 1974, and came back as an editorial writer for a year in mid-1975. ''Those were pretty heavy days,'' said C. W. Johnson, who was a reporter with Mr. Gore and is now the paper's managing editor, listing the names of several Tennessean staffers who went on to impressive national careers. ''Jim Squiers was here, Sonny Rawls. We never thought Al was going to make journalism his life, but he held his own with a pretty fast crowd.''

The times they are a'changing -- again. There is one other generational story to watch in this election -- at least if the Clinton-Gore ticket is a winner. A lot of middle-aged Democrats, Silent Generation types and the oldest of the boomers, who practically constituted a government-in-exile during the Reagan and Bush years, are heading toward Little Rock and Nashville, anticipating appointments in a Democratic administration as a reward for their loyal standing and waiting.

But the shadow government, my friends and cohorts, may have already lost out to the newest generation, the post-boomers, the men and women in their late 20s and 30s who have been driving the Clinton campaign since its modest beginnings. Those generational credentials may mean a lot more than conspicuous badges of service to Jimmy Carter or the Kennedys.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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