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Shelia Blume interview with Mark Keller

“The news is its medium, not its message”: Mark Keller’s turning point

Sheila Blume, M.D., was a lecturer at the Rutgers Summer School of Alcohol Studies (student 1965, lecturer 1966 – 2011). Her generous donations to the CAS Library included the raw audiotapes of a four-hour interview Dr. Blume conducted with Mark Keller in the 1980s that the library digitized to .mp3 and .wav formats for posterity.

Parts of this interview were published in the British Journal of Addiction in 1985, and again in the book Addictions, edited by Griffith Edwards in 1991. Not included in these publications is the rich autobiographical information Keller shares in the interview, a portion of which we have transcribed below. In this excerpt, Keller describes his early days working in the newspaper industry and theorizes about both the industry in general and its influence on his pursuit of a more scholarly profession:

Mark Keller
Mark Keller (photo from the Mark Keller Papers)

“Working on a newspaper, one of the things that I’ve found out was what a newspaper really is. As I put it today, and I don’t know how I put it then, but as I put it today, the newspaper is not in the news business and especially, it is not in the fact business, and very specially, it is not in the knowledge business. A newspaper is in the entertainment business. It belongs with radio, and TV, and theater, and the circus. The news is its medium, not its message. But that’s my slogan and I wish I could copyright it.

Now, then I found this out: a newspaper is not concerned to tell you anything or to teach you anything. It is concerned to entertain you. They have to sell papers. Now everybody knows that, it’s just that, nobody pays any attention to it. They do it through the news, and this is true of the news magazines, of course. The facts are of secondary importance. Somehow, I had an interest in knowledge, and apparently about that time I was beginning to discover it in my twenties. And I began to discover that my interest is in knowledge. I want to know and I want to transmit. I think I was becoming conscious of what I was interested in. Maybe I was discovering science as a thing. Now, I had read a lot.

When I was sixteen, I read Hall’s Psychology of Adolescence. I remember two thick volumes. I read them through because you learn a lot in that kind of thing. And I think I was eighteen when I began to read Freud, and there wasn’t a hell of a lot in English at that time. His translator then was A.A. Brill, and it was terrible. But at that time, I went to hear a lecture by A.A Brill, and I even remember parts of it, because it was a dramatic and terrific discovery. So, apparently, I got interested in psychology. I think I was also beginning to be interested in science. I think I was beginning to make the distinction between the kind of information which appears in newspapers and popular magazines, and the kind that appears in books, especially books written by scholars, by learned people, by scientists.

I think this was becoming a very important distinction for me, and so I was looking for a way to do something else. I got into what I thought of as science and it was really medicine. But for me it was scientific enough, and it really was. There was a lot of science and there was a lot of research.”

For the published versions of the interview, please see the references below.


–Originally published in the December 2013 issue of the CAS Information Services Newsletter