Instead of retiring, though, Shepard started afresh at the place he had come from: the City University of New York, his alma mater. He accepted a job as the founding dean of an upstart new journalism school being established under CUNY’s auspices — one aimed at serving students who couldn’t afford the pricey programs at nearby Columbia and NYU, and one that would, it was hoped, “increase the number of minority journalists in a profession sorely lacking them.” The school, its dean proudly points out, offered the first publicly supported masters program in journalism in the Northeast. Its goal was nothing less than creating “a new school for a new era.”
Shepard explores that new era and the many that preceded it in “Deadlines and Disruption.” The book is in part a memoir, a tale of a life lived at the height of print journalism when print journalism itself was at its height. But it is also an analysis, an examination of the new challenges facing an old industry as it ambles and occasionally sprints its way into the digital age. “My personal passage,” he notes, “is, in many ways, a microcosm of the larger struggle within the journalism profession to come to terms with the digital reckoning.”
“Deadlines and Disruption” treads familiar ground: the debates about who, ultimately, counts as a journalist. The questions of how to encourage the kind of vital investigative reporting so essential to a democracy. The all-important matter of financing. Shepard treats those journalistic questions journalistically, bringing a reporter’s sensibility — curiosity, an eye for detail, an impulse to analyze and synthesize — to his assessment of his profession. His conclusion is learned and passionate and just a little bit romantic. “I believe,” he writes, “in the smithy of my soul, that even if the medium ultimately changes — and it will — the human need, the intellectual need, for thoughtful journalism will never, ever go away.”
But the journalism itself will have to evolve. News outlets that produce digital news — which is to say, all news outlets — will need to reconsider the comparative advantage they enjoy in a world where the amateur expert has access to the same tools as the professional. “We need,” Shepard says, “to emphasize editorial value — what we can bring to the party.” And that will mean reemphasizing not just original reporting but also skilled writing, smart analysis and “the highest ethical values.” It will mean being open to conversations with audiences — journalism as a process as well as a product — and to new ways of presenting civically relevant information, whether through databases or calendars or multimedia. There’s Web video to explore, Shepard points out. There are apps. There are e-readers. There are platforms that are, at the moment, only gleams in the eye of an upstart entrepreneur.