President Bollinger Discusses His New Book on a Free Press for a Shrinking World

Special from The Record

Dec. 17, 2009Bookmark and Share
(Editor's note: Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger will be on PBS' Charlie Rose Show tonight, Jan. 13 at 11:00 p.m. EST. On Thursday, Jan. 14, President Bollinger will also appear on The Brian Lehrer Show (WNYC 93.9).)
Given his day job as president of Columbia University, it may be natural to wonder how Lee C. Bollinger finds the time to write a book. 
“I think being a president is creative, but in the day, there are plenty of cracks in which you can apply your mind to other things that you like to think about,” he said. “And I happen to like to think about freedom of the press and speech a lot.”
His latest book, Uninhibited, Robust and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century, will be published next month by Oxford University Press, part of a series on inalienable rights. It is the fifth book on free speech and free press that he has written or edited. He also teaches a course on the subject for Columbia undergraduates each year. Bollinger explains that he was able to focus on the time-consuming work of creating the first rough draft of the manuscript during the summer of 2008.
A law school professor and former dean, Columbia's president comes by his interest in the First Amendment through his father and grandmother, who both worked at a newspaper in California. “My earliest memories are connected to a newspaper,” he said, adding that he learned to fold and throw newspapers as a boy. Later, when his father bought a small daily newspaper in Oregon, Bollinger did the kind of grunt work there that today would be labeled an “internship,” even being the paper’s part-time janitor.
After law school at Columbia and a clerkship at the Supreme Court, Bollinger began teaching law at the University of Michigan, where he was asked what area he wanted to specialize in. “You have to write something, and the question was, What do I know? And, of course, I knew nothing about anything,” he said. “But as I thought about it, I thought, ‘I really do love newspapers and journalism’ … plus this emotional identification with freedom of the press. And that really launched the course of my scholarly life.”
In his latest book, Bollinger argues that while freedom of the press was one of the greatest 20th century achievements of the United States and the envy of journalists around the world, it faces daunting challenges in a global 21st century. The world—and the formerly profitable business of journalism—is realigning itself amid the drumbeat of globalization and the Internet. At a time when a world community needs to know more about what’s going on, the media is confronting threats to its economic viability, to its freedom from various forms of censorship and even to the physical safety of its journalists.  
“I think we should face the fact that we are in a world in which we’re going to have to compete on a global stage for our values,” Bollinger said. “And if we believe that a free and independent press is an important value, as I do, then we’re going to have to think about how we help encourage that.”

—by Record Staff