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Hot Topic: The Future of Journalism

March 18th, 2009 by admin · 25 Comments

Spurred by news that a Seattle newspaper was switching to an all-digital format, WHAS-TV invited Courier-Journal publisher Arnold Garson over to speculate on the future of the newspaper during yesterday’s Noon newscast.

He didn’t really tell Rachel Platt much that we didn’t hear a few months back when he spoke at an SPJ meeting –  the paper reaches 85 percent of adults, but revenue isn’t keeping up, blah blah blah. Nothing against Mr. Garson, but we’ve heard it all before.  No, he doesn’t know if there will ever be a time when there’s no paper, but he’s not making any predictions.

Meanwhile, they’re sweating bullets at the state’s other big paper, the Herald-Leader, which prompted columnist Tom Eblen to write a lengthy rant about where journalism’s going.  Eblen had just spoken to a high school class about the news business, agreeing with Garson that no one knows what a newspaper is going to look like in the future. He’s right about one thing — the reporting of stories will continue in one form or another.

Today the Ville Voice participated in a communications job fair over at Bellarmine. None of the students interested in media careers aspired to a job at a newspaper. And get this — no newspapers were represented among a group of a dozen or so employers.

Maybe the newspaper business has given up on recruiting — the companies represented included ad agencies, a TV station (Jennifer Baileys of Fox41), Insight, Metro TV, and a few online operations. Even Kentucky Kingdom. We met a bunch of bright students interested in writing, and we hope to introduce you to some of them during the next few months.

The C-J has participated in the past, but declined this year.

Tags: Education · Insight Comm. · Intern · Journalism

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jessica // Mar 18, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I also read that some of the writers of the recently-closed Rocky Mountain News have started an online news site:

    http://www.indenvertimes.com/

  • 2 Chris // Mar 18, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    There are likely a dozen daily papers that will close within a year. Tucson’s paper will close Saturday if Gannett can’t find a buyer by then.
    Personally I think large and mid-market daily’s will all die in print form within five years. In the aftermath there will be a combination of weekly and monthly print products and lots of online journalism. At least that’s what I’m betting my career on.

  • 3 Nathan // Mar 18, 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Does a newspaper really die when it goes online? I would argue that it doesn’t, because there would still be (hopefully) substantive reporting going on. The key here, in my view, is for newspaper sites NOT CHARGE for content. Asking people to pay for stuff they can get elsewhere for free would be financial suicide.

  • 4 Henry Watterson // Mar 18, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    “Asking people to pay for stuff they can get elsewhere for free would be financial suicide.”

    I question the accuracy of that statement. Everyone keeps repeating that trope, but thus far no “free” news source has cropped up to replace the Courier-Journal. Please — name one. Name one news organization that has the manpower and reach of the Courier-Journal that can also deliver the same product on a fraction of the revenue stream. And don’t say PageOne. It has its merits, but it also has a total of one full-time reporter and does not come close to covering the entire community like the C-J attempts to do.

    The C-J is only free because the public, in its short-sighted refusal to acknowledge that it costs money to run a 24/7 news operation, would howl in protest if they were asked to pay for it online. Financial suicide, indeed.

    That is an objective fact. It is not an opinion.

    I am tired of hearing people act as if this is out of their hands. They want the news for free. Fine. When the C-J goes under, there will be plenty of “news.” And most of it will also be thinly reported and terribly biased, and probably controlled by people with less than transparent agendas. It will be junk, in other words. You will have to spend twice as much time trying to find out what the hell is going on, but it will be free. Thank God we didn’t have to spend a couple precious bucks a week for it. Good luck with that.

  • 5 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Mar 18, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Nation: Since the revenue for an online news operation would necessitate a much smaller reporting staff, I have fears that “substantive”, complete reporting of community matters will go wanting. There’s no telling if local news can ever recover from a city’s one and only major newspaper going under (by going online).

  • 6 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Mar 18, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Whoops… Meant “Nathan” not “Nation”. My head sometimes…

  • 7 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Mar 18, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    Henry, the “manpower and reach of the Courier-Journal” is shrinking all the time. One could argue that we’ve already lost the C-J.

  • 8 Henry Watterson // Mar 18, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    “One could argue that we’ve already lost the C-J.”

    With all due respect, that is a ridiculous statement.

    I’m not sure about this, but I estimate the C-J has more than 100 reporters, photographers and editors covering the news, sports, arts, politics and whatever. When there’s a fire at 2 a.m., the C-J covers it. When UK plays, the C-J covers it. The C-J tells you which shows are coming to town. It tells you who is mad at the mayor this week. It tells you about street closings, and tax increases, and new business openings, and what the governor is up to. Sometimes, it does a terrible job. But it still does that job.

    My original question still stands: Who can match that, using a new business model that can be sustained?

  • 9 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Mar 18, 2009 at 8:03 pm

    Henry, there’s nothing at all ridiculous about the statement. The C-J is but a shadow of what it once was, and its coverage has been reduced accordingly. If you don’t agree, then you must be a highly biased C-J partisan, probably an executive there.

  • 10 Steve Magruder (I, not D or R) // Mar 18, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    By the way, I’ve seen packages of tissue paper with more heft than some of the daily issues of the current incarnation of the C-J.

  • 11 Henry Watterson // Mar 19, 2009 at 10:50 am

    Steve –

    You can change try to change the subject and continue to fight old, tired rhetorical battles, or you can address the central question: Who will cover the community with the depth and scope of the Courier-Journal if the readers refuse to pay for it?

    Your honor, please make the witness answer the question!

  • 12 Jessica // Mar 19, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Every morning I get up and go through the RSS feeds of every local news source, and there’s rarely anything in the C-J that isn’t also in one or two other places.

  • 13 Anthony // Mar 19, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Henry,
    Market forces are fair. If there is a desire and need for a paid on-line service, one will be created to fill the need, and it will thrive. Otherwise, market forces will move to other models. If readers “refuse to pay for it” then the product does not offer a resonable and/or competitive value proposition.

  • 14 Henry Watterson // Mar 19, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Jessica –
    “Every morning I get up and go through the RSS feeds of every local news source, and there’s rarely anything in the C-J that isn’t also in one or two other places.”

    Really? Where else did you see that expose on the local cops who don’t show up to court, forcing prosecutors to let dozens of felons go free? Where else did you see the paper’s award-winning coverage of the Lexington plane crash, the one that led to airport safety reforms?

    Anthony —
    “Market forces are fair. If there is a desire and need for a paid on-line service, one will be created to fill the need, and it will thrive.”

    That doesn’t make any sense. The whole point of this conversation is that people won’t pay for something that they can get for free. I believe the term “financial suicide” was used. Here is how this will play out: People will continue to insist on “free” news, which will drive out all the quality journalists. They will be replaced by news sources that are free, but they will be junk. You will have pockets of good stuff, but nothing approaching the depth and coverage of a decent newspaper website. No one is going to bust their ass on something just to give it away. Journalism is not a hobby, it is a profession. Once everyone realizes this, it will be too late. So again, good luck, people. You have been warned.

  • 15 Jessica // Mar 20, 2009 at 8:06 am

    Henry -

    I said rarely, not never. Next time you should try reading what I wrote instead of just copying and pasting it.

  • 16 Chuck // Mar 20, 2009 at 9:24 am

    The CJ ought to improve its news gathering and focus on local events and stop trashing the paper with articles that really don’t have a local or even national focus. There is no balance when you just print AP articles and no real investigative news reporting. I read the AP wire from my computer daily so why do I need to buy the CJ to do that. Not to mention Reuters, Interfax, and every other press agency from Louisville to the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic

  • 17 Zed // Mar 20, 2009 at 10:17 am

    The CJ does a lot of local events, Chuck…can you give specifics on what they don’t cover?

    No real investivgative news reporting? That’s just a wrong statement, dude. They did a series on no-show cops and the effects…that’s not investigative?
    Just because it’s a press release doesn’t mean it’s news…

  • 18 Anthony // Mar 20, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Henry,
    Your contention that the market choice for on-line news will be “junk” is a subjective assessment. The objective way to look at this is that if the market is satisfied with a product, the market has determined that it is not junk.

  • 19 Henry Watterson // Mar 20, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    Jessica —
    “I said rarely, not never. Next time you should try reading what I wrote instead of just copying and pasting it.”

    Please answer the question. Who else has the capability to cover the community like the C-J? Not just press releases or feature stories, but in-depth investigation and analysis? We all agree that PageOne has potential, but it has only one full-time staffer.

    Anthony –
    “The objective way to look at this is that if the market is satisfied with a product, the market has determined that it is not junk.”

    The “market” is a wonderful concept when everyone has money to spend. But while such Randian ideals are in vogue these days, the fact is that good journalism has rarely been something that people paid for directly. They might have slapped down a nickel for the newspaper, but vast majority of the costs for good journalism have been subsidized by fluff. Department store ads paid for investigative reporting. “Three’s Company” helped make “Nightline” possible. So now that the fluff isn’t generating any money, the non-sexy investigative stuff and boring watchdog reporting will decline, too. That’s how markets work, and I’m arguing that this is not a promising scenario for the future of journalism, online or in print.

  • 20 Anthony // Mar 20, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    Henry,
    So the next step of the discussion is really about the contribution of “journalism” to our culture. I assume you equate advocacy journalism to good journalism, and consider that a vital part of our culture. So then you’re question of who will step forward to be an advocate for the voiceless still stands. Going back to my belief in the free market…if the voiceless truly need an advocate, one will emerge. Perhaps it will be in the media or perhaps not. But will that advocate be considered a journalist? Does it matter? If journalism, as we now define it, dies, who cares? If the voiceless have an advocate, your definition of journalism won’t be needed. The free market will create a solution to every need.

  • 21 Jessica // Mar 20, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Henry –

    “Please answer the question. Who else has the capability to cover the community like the C-J? Not just press releases or feature stories, but in-depth investigation and analysis? We all agree that PageOne has potential, but it has only one full-time staffer.”

    Doesn’t every business start with one guy and an idea? UPS started with a couple of guys and a bike – look where they are now. My background is in the arts, but even I understand that with the growth of a business comes the ability to hire more help; with more help comes the ability to do more reporting; with more reporting comes taking business from the competition. Today, Page One and the ‘Ville Voice might only have two full-time journalists, but next year they might have five. If you have five people writing as much as Jake does in one week, you’re producing more articles than the C-J.

    The argument that online, free journalism will be junk is faulty. It’s free to watch local news, and their stories are comparable to the stuff that gets published in the C-J. And it’s not like the online journalists aren’t making anything – they’re working off of ad revenue. Right now, About.com is the most profitable New York Times Company asset, and you never have to pay a dime to look at any of it.

  • 22 jake // Mar 21, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Just a clarification – I’m not the only full-timer at Page One. And all of our sites will soon have full-time Assistant Editors/investigative reporters. I.E., folks who aren’t as opinionated as me. I’d say that’s a pretty big step.

    We also have major investors. So. Another big step.

    But we’re certainly not trying to be anything but what we are– some websites who report stuff of interest on occasion.

    In other news: I love how the only people who trash us and complain are from the C-J. Daley and Hawpe. How quaint.

  • 23 Henry Watterson // Mar 22, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Anthony —
    “The free market will create a solution to every need.”

    I disagree. This is the reason we don’t expect the fire department to make a profit. In some instances, “success” can’t be measured with a profit/loss statement. Granted, the newspaper industry in the 1990s convinced everyone that for-profit, corporately owned newspapers were the only way to go, but that model is collapsing. And, I would argue (see my comments above) that it was probably always unsustainable.

    Jessica –
    “If you have five people writing as much as Jake does in one week, you’re producing more articles than the C-J.”

    I disagree with that statement. Jake does a fine job most days, and five more “Jakes” would be nice, but PageOne doesn’t cover nearly the number of topics covered in the C-J. That is not a criticism of PageOne, it is just a recognition that it has a long way to go.

    Thanks for the give and take. I am signing off on this thread. I will see you in other threads down the road.

  • 24 Anthony // Mar 23, 2009 at 9:48 am

    Thanks Henry! Enjoyed that chat….

  • 25 endovewob // Apr 24, 2009 at 2:15 am

    I’m the only one in this world. Can please someone join me in this life? Or maybe death…

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