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 AJR  Letters

From AJR,   August/September 2006  issue

The Future of Newspapers   

Welcome, Rem Rieder, to the optimists club (Full Court Press, June/July). I was at a Poynter seminar last week and had the same reaction–there's a change in attitude out there and it's for the better. Editors are tired of feeling doomed. They're rolling up their sleeves and getting on with it.

And--as to your remark about compensating journalists for the "extra" work of the Web-- I think that's largely a myth. I blog, write a weekly column for the paper, edit major projects and some daily stuff, run a newsroom and write a lot for others. Apart from the ASNE gig this year my workday hasn't expanded. But I find myself employing my time doing different things.

Our experience with the staff here, and my own, is that if you dabble in the Web, and blogs, and the rest of it, you sort of begin to work it into the standard 50 or 60 hours most of us spend each week on journalism. I'm not spending more time, or extra time (except when I'm learning the new thing I'm ignorant about), I'm spending roughly the same time, but differently.

Besides, asking for extra compensation to learn the Web is like asking for extra compensation to learn how to use this life ring I've been thrown while my boat has a big leak and I'm swimming for it.

Dave Zeeck
President, American Society of Newspaper Editors
Executive Editor
News Tribune
Tacoma, Washington

I just read "Adapt or Die" (June/July). As a former newspaper journalist, current trade magazine writer and young person, I am tired of industry analysts blaming (at least partially) the demise of newspapers on young people.

There are plenty of people my parents' age who do not read newspapers on a regular basis. Either one is interested in being informed or they're not. Is this an interest that grows stronger as we age? I am not sure.

I will acknowledge there are fewer young people reading the paper than their older counterparts. I believe it is due to the fact that newspaper reading was instilled in my parents' generation by their parents (my grandparents) who did not grow up with TV, Internet and other places to get news. Even today, seniors are the newspapers' stronghold.

Perhaps newspapers have not acknowledged they are not competing against one another so much, but they are competing for one's free time. There are so many more choices today about how a person can spend his or her time. I have heard newspaper journalists think "it's sad" when people refuse to read the jump for a story. Newspapers have to learn to get on board. Give the information quick and dense. Leave Sunday for the long features when people spend an entire morning consuming the newspaper.

If writers complain they aren't getting to fill their potential by writing long pieces, tell them to turn to magazines. That is, unless, they are next in line to bite the dust.

Megan Brody
Staff writer
Midwest Real Estate News
Chicago, Illinois

Newspapers no longer are first to a story.
Newspapers no longer are the #1 gathering resource.
Newspapers no longer have the best journalists or editors.
Newspapers no longer are first to influence decision makers.
Newspapers no longer are believed to be free of fraud and bias.
Newspapers no longer are regarded as a medium of enlightenment.
Newspapers no longer enjoy an exclusive expository position.
Newspapers are still — somewhat--entertaining.

Bob Manna
Dallas, Texas

The Internet revolution has essentially presented the news information business with a new market. It's an opportunity for newspapers (and other print media) to become leaders in the news information business.

Unfortunately most newspapers simply don't have the money to turn the corner. So instead many are trying to "extend" their current business model (that is, print), because this is where the money still is for them. Niche products are just one example of print media trying to extend their current business model. But these should only be supplemental.

The real ballgame is the Internet — its interactive capabilities and particularly video, both in news stories and in advertising. Newspapers need to make the move now to the Internet, start offering commercials (streaming video and interactive ads) to their advertisers, as well as streaming video and interactives to their readers.

This is what the new generation of readers wants, and no amount of changing the print product (going to niche products and so on) is going to alter that. If newspapers want to survive, they need to listen to the new generation of readers and give them what they want. We know where news (and advertising) is headed — to the Web, and as such, to the combined Web/television. There's no mystery here.

The Naples Daily News in Florida and its sister paper, the Bonita News, have it right. The newspapers have a news program that broadcasts each day. If the print media wait much longer, which I predict most will, television news will dominate their markets in Web news. TV news already has much of the infrastructure and staff in place for providing video, commercials, and other interactive content. It's time now for print media to "adapt or die."

My prediction? Many newspapers will partner or consolidate with TV stations and/or be absorbed by them.

Don Stilwell
Publisher
Walker County Messenger
Chickamauga, Georgia