Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Future of Newspapers: A Conversation

Alex Jones, Laurence M. Lombard Lecturer in the Press and Public Policy and Director of the Shorenstein Center, Harvard University
John Carroll, Former Editor, Los Angeles Times


The recent and ongoing contraction in the newspaper industry and the emergence of the Internet as a venue for real-time news suggest that preserving newspapers will become less effective as a strategy for capturing and preserving the news record as time goes on.

Some of the observations made were:

* More versioning, but less reporting. The prevailing newspaper business model has been shattered by the Internet, with the sharp decline of newspaper classified advertising revenue. Yet the digital media outlets that are purported to be replacing newspapers tend not to “put reporters on the street” or support sustained investigative reporting of the kind that broke stories like Watergate, Whitewater, and others in the past. Original news gathering and investigative reporting are expensive, and newspaper organizations have been scaling back their investment in same, while new media, such as blogs, feeds, and news Web sites, largely draw on the traditional news media sources. As a result, while there are more sources from which people, particularly young people, get their news, the amount of substantive news coverage has been decreasing.
* Pressures on bottom-line performance. Newspapers, and news people, are themselves committed to a “public service” mission, of promoting an informed citizenry, but today are finding it difficult to reconcile that mission with the relentless pressure from owners to make money. This pressure is particularly intense at newspapers owned by stockholders. Online ad revenue alone is not yet adequate to sustain a paper, but because most expect Web content to be free, it will be difficult to succeed with a business model under which readers must pay for content.
* Declining consumption. Newspapers are also facing the reality that few people are interested in serious news and even fewer are willing to wade through lengthy text and analysis. Demand for instantaneous news outweighs the demand for authoritative reporting, and the former demand is largely met by cable and the Web.
* Investigative reporting is still alive, albeit on a limited basis, at non-profit centers like the investigative journalism nonprofit, ProPublica, based at the University of California at Berkeley, or supported by grants from foundations like the Fund for Investigative Journalism. On another independent news site, Josh Marshall’s Talking Points Memo, “ . . . even if he doesn’t report it—and he often does—he also keeps big media on the story, and it’s a great new pressure.”

No comments: