Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Power of a Good Story: Why Journalism Will Thrive

Editor's Note: Today is launch day! Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to launch shortly after 2pm EDT for a mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. Best place to watch the launch is at

I've written several posts on journalism's future and I'm sure people have lots more to say. The Senate weighed in this week with a three hour hearing on the future of journalism. James Rainey of the LA Times said the platitudes the politicians threw out toward newspapers made him almost blush. Rainey also concluded, rightly, that newspapers will have to figure out how to save themselves.

I realized how much hope I have for journalism when I was preparing two legends of the space business for interviews during the run-up to the launch Monday of Space Shuttle Atlantis to service the Hubble Space Telescope.

Loren Shriver is a former astronaut who now works for United Space Alliance. (Full Disclosure: United Space Alliance is one of my clients) Shriver is a retired Air Force pilot and veteran of three Shuttle missions, including commanding the mission that put the Hubble Telescope into orbit.

Bill Reeves was the lead flight director during the mission that launched Hubble and now also works for United Space Alliance. If you are unfamiliar with the role of a flight director during a space mission think God, with a little more pull. They are responsible for every aspect of the mission and their decisions can not be overruled. In addition to the Hubble mission, Reeves worked in mission control during every Apollo mission.

The stories that these two guys can tell are amazing. They helped make history. The scientific data the Hubble has provided could fill 3600 feet of shelf space in a typical library. For the computer crowd, Hubble transmits 120 gigabites of data every WEEK.

Shriver still feels personally connected to the scientific marvel he put into space. "Don't break my telescope" has been his advice to astronauts who have four times gone to Hubble to service it; making it one of the greatest scientific instruments ever built.

Reeves says the Hubble has changed the way we understand the universe. "We knew we were doing something special when we launched it. I told my team that they just put an instrument in orbit that would require astronomy books to be rewritten." If successful, this latest servicing mission will extend Hubble's life five to seven years to nearly a quarter of a century. Astronomy texts may need further rewrites.

So the telescope that Reeves, Shriver and their respective teams launched is as valuable to our understanding of the universe as Galileo's telescope was when he used it to discover the moons of Jupiter in 1610.

The common thread between Galileo's telescope, Hubble and the future of journalism?

Human beings.

Technology can change our worldview. But only when journalists use the technology to tell the great stories will those changes start to matter.

Journalism will be fine because there are people like Reeves and Shriver who have great stories that need to be told.

So for all of the worried journalists out there... find the great stories out there, look into the telescope and tell us what you see.

Bill Salvin

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