Former L.A. Times editor giving annual Creason lecture tonight

To the casual observer, the newspaper you are holding is not much different than the one your grandfather read. But for those in the business, the field of journalism is changing dramatically.

“It’s very iffy,” said John Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times. “There’s a lot happening, which has a lot of promise. It remains to be seen.”

Carroll, who also served as editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Baltimore Sun, is set to talk about the future of the journalism industry at the 31st annual Joe Creason Lecture, tonight in Memorial Hall.

With experience dating back to 1963, Carroll understands the profession and industry, said Beth Barnes, director of the School of Journalism and Telecommunications.

“He has been at the forefront on discussions about where journalism is going since stepping down at the L.A. Times,” Barnes said.

In recent years, revenue shortfalls have forced many newspapers to cut back on staff, an issue very close to Carroll. In 2005, he left the Los Angeles Times in protest over staff reductions.

Young journalists should be mindful of the shaky job security in the profession today, Carroll said.

“(Students) should be realistic that journalism is going through a lot of change,” Carroll said. “If you value job security, it’s not for you.”

The uncertain nature of journalism that students face combined with Carroll’s expertise in the subject is what prompted Barnes to invite the former editor to give this year’s Creason lecture, she said.

“Given that many of our students are looking at the industry, it seemed like a good time for him to talk,” Barnes said. “He has a good vantage point.”

Tim Kelly worked as an executive editor when Carroll served as editor in chief at the Herald-Leader from 1979 to 1991. Carroll believed in big-picture journalism and “stories that made a difference,” said Kelly, who is now publisher of the Herald-Leader,

That outlook netted Carroll and the Los Angeles Times 13 Pulitzer Prizes during his time as editor.

“He’s a deep thinker,” Kelly said. “He’s been an editor and has the experience of being a great reporter in Vietnam. John has lived on the front line of journalism since the 1960’s.”

Carroll does not see journalism as a dying art; instead he sees the field attracting a new set of people.

“Journalism may appeal to a different type of person,” Carroll said, “more to students with mission and adventure and less to students who value job security and reliability.”

And for those looking at entering the profession, Carroll has simple advice.

“If journalism grabs you,” he said, “you ought to do it. If not, you shouldn’t.”