David Briscoe


POSTED: Friday, July 31, 2009

A veteran newsman says the future of the profession depends on journalists being the most reliable sources of news, without giving the information away for free.

The challenge is for traditional media to survive in a world where anybody can be a reporter and news can be captured by cell phones, said David Briscoe, who retired last week from the Honolulu bureau of the Associated Press, after a 39-year career with the world's largest newsgathering organization, which took him around the world.

Briscoe, 66, joined the AP in 1970 in the Philippines, after three years in the Peace Corps. He earned $90-month in the Manila bureau, covering such stories as an earthquake that struck perilously close to the bureau, a plane hijacking and an attempt on the visiting pope's life.

After a busy first year, he transferred to the AP bureau in his hometown of Salt Lake City, where he won the top state journalism award for an investigation of Mormon church finances — stories no Utah daily would publish.

He was promoted to news editor for Utah and Idaho, and after four years returned to Manila, serving as bureau chief from 1980 to 1986, a historic period that saw the rise of the People Power revolution that sent dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda, into exile in Hawaii, and propelled Corazon Aquino, widow of the assassinated opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr., to the Philippine presidency.

Then it was on to Washington D.C., where for 15 years he worked countless global stories. Briscoe took the reins of the Honolulu bureau in 2001 and delighted to see the 5-person news staff in the thick of things, as when Barack Obama visits Hawaii.

“;I didn't realize how interesting my career had been until I got to the end of it. ... Because in a way, the AP is the gray old lady of journalism. We're not well-known personalities, we don't write columns, but our reach is so far, our work can be published all over the world,”; said Briscoe, who is president of the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

He and his wife, Noree, have four grown children, two of whom live in Hawaii.

Question: How do you intend to spend your retirement?

Answer: We're staying in Hawaii. I'm hoping to write. I'm hoping to do some video editing. I've taken a lot of video through the years, probably several hundred hours, so I have this budding hobby of editing video and making home movies. I'm also doing a little consulting ... and hope to do what I can to help journalism, which is in dire straits these days on a lot of fronts. ...

Q: What kind of writing?

A: I have a lot of memories and experiences that I need to sort through and I have a novel that I've always hoped to write. ...

Q: You called the Mormon finance investigation, written with fellow AP reporter Bill Beecham, the “;ultimate high-low point”; of your career. Why?

A: It was a high point because it was a journalistic accomplishment and we both felt we had dug deep and compiled information that nobody had gotten before . ... In the end we had what we thought was a good piece of journalism. But it was a low point because the influence of the Mormon church resulted in it not getting published in Utah ... It was a very profound journalistic experience ...

Q: Did that shake your Mormon faith at all?

A: No, not at all ... I knew it would be a tough ... but we did it, and it was published outside of Utah. That's the reach of the AP.

Q: You witnessed Philippine history. What are your most vivid memories of the People Power revolution?

A: ... The real profound memory was the morning after, walking through the open gates of Malacanang Palace and seeing uniformed soldiers with guns lounging on the ground talking to ordinary people . ... and realizing that the long rule of Ferdinand Marcos was actually over and it was a new dawn in the Philippines . ...

Q: What do you see as the most pressing issues for the media in Hawaii?

A: The most pressing issues, as with government and any business, are economic. Can the traditional media, broadcast and print, survive in a world where anybody can be a reporter, news can be captured by cell phones and the future for traditional reporters, photographers and other newspeople, for the media in general, is very uncertain?

Q: What do you think the future of journalism looks like?

A: I think we'll continue to see more of the melding of traditional and new media. Newspapers, and TV and even radio are trying to find ways to make forays into the Internet economically viable. Reporters and photographers and other people in the media are realizing that they are going to have to embrace multimedia as a way of gathering and telling stories. They're not only going to have to determine what sources they can rely on, among the countless sources out there, but also have to figure out how not to give it away for free. I think the principles of journalism will survive, the principles of objectivity, thoroughness, being responsible and ethical. The big challenge will be to get people to realize where the best journalism is coming from. To determine the difference between reliable and unreliable information. Hopefully by relying on the principles of good journalism, they'll still rise above it all to be the best sources of information. ...

Q: How is public access in Hawaii, compared to other places you've worked?

A: I've never had a major complaint with the ability to get public information ... in terms of the issues that have arisen here, over the shield law, and the Sunshine Law, open meetings ... I think we are doing pretty well, because we are keeping up the battle, keep demanding access to information. We are not giving up. ... There will always be resistance to complete openness on the part of the government ... but overall I think we are doing pretty well.