Local journalists discuss future of profession
As those affected by the journalism industry’s have tried to offer causes to the shake-out of the industry, local members from both of journalism’s professional and academic worlds offered their take on the profession’s status, as well as the direction the business may need to take.
For Chippewa Valley Newspapers publisher Mark Baker, he said, the time is bittersweet.
“It is an exciting yet scary time for journalism,” he said.
However, WCCO-TV news director Scott Libin said these results have occurred due changes in news consumption habits.
Both freelance journalist Marisa Helms and Megan Peterson, a graduating broadcast journalism major, said multimedia journalism, where knowing every emphasis is essential, has become the reality.
But for Mike Dorsher, an associate professor of journalism, the standards and methods through which journalists work will stay the same.
These ideas were some of many expressed through a panel discussion on the Future of Journalism held at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire on Tuesday, April 14, 2009.
UW-Eau Claire executive director of communications Mike Rindo, who moderated the discussion, fielded conversation on topics such as the current status of the market, the use of blogs and online discussion forums in newspaper and news station Web sites and future business models.
Rindo started the night off by asking the panelists to explain the challenges journalism faces in the next five years.
Baker, who remembered when daily multiple newspapers, radio and TV stations could co-exist even in the smallest markets, said the challenge now is how traditional media can stand out within the masses of local, national and international media. While he acknowledged the Internet’s influence on all forms of communication, his outlook for print newspapers remained positive.
“I’m a big believer that newspapers will still be a big player,” he said. “Older people will still read print, but we’re at an age where when we want information, it’s there.”
Libin, who in addition to his broadcast career, has lead seminars for journalists in leadership and ethical decision making at The Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., said one of the changes in the broadcast business has been the switch from the networks dictating programming to catering to viewer preferences.
“The younger generation is not embracing its parents’ consumption habits, where the news consumption was at night,” he said. “It used to be where if viewers didn’t like it, they could go elsewhere.”
Now Libin said that as the viewership “is growing out of the demographic who can be swayed,” that networks now need to develop more outlets to reach viewers. The challenge, he said, means reaching out to younger viewers, without alienating their older and long-time customers.
Helms, whose journalism career has included print media, radio and online, poked fun at the current challenges by presenting a Norman Rockwell painting parody with a caption that urged to read newspapers to help support starving journalists. A contributor to the non-profit news Web site MinnPost.com, Helms said the site, which relies on both user and reporter generated content, may be the future business model for online journalism.
“I’ve done policy reporting, stories on capital gains taxes (for the site),” she said. “It’s niche reporting. It’s the news that people want.”
For Peterson, she said the last three years of college have changed her outlook on her future career from specializing in one medium, to using several different ones.
“Coming in to college, I thought that learning about the business would be straightforward,” she said. “But it changed to knowing it all – being the one-man-band and knowing how to keep up with new technologies.”
Dorsher, who is currently on sabbatical in Canada, was able to attend the discussion using a one of these new technologies through the Internet telephone software Skype.
Dorsher said that recent developments such as large daily newspapers like the Seattle Post-Intellenger trading print publication for strictly online may result in many metro areas having one daily newspaper in print. But he said that journalists must continue to focus on the craft of the profession and not the restructuring of business.
“Journalists must focus on the quality,” he said. “They need to find new ways people can become engaged.”
A successful example of this he said, was President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, which Dorsher said used multiple media outlets to draw in voters.
Ultimately, he said journalists must make news, including important news, interesting. In order to achieve this, Dorsher said journalists must first find an important topic before they add extra content to it. He also said that journalists should reach out to their audiences throughout all parts of the news reporting and writing process.
While Helms said she disagreed with this, saying that she wants to be a reporter and not worry about added pressure from reader feedback, Libin said that media outlets like his own need to realize the limitations of viewer or reader feedback.
However, for industry professionals like Baker, he said newspaper staffs, like his colleagues at the Chippewa Valley Herald are now under more pressure to do more, especially with limited members.
Both Helms and Libin said adding Web sites to radio and TV stations have given broadcast professionals extra tasks, as now many must convert their scripts to print form. During his time at The Poynter Institute from 2003-07, Libin said the biggest complaint he received from visiting broadcast professionals was the anxiety they faced on perfect spelling.
Rindo also asked the panelists if journalism could still rely on advertising as its primary revenue. For newspapers, Baker said the biggest blow to the business has been Google.
“Newspapers lost control of their future when they sold content and ads to Google.” he said.
He said newspapers must take control of their property, even going so far as to block their site from being found through Google’s Web site crawlers.
But while Libin said it may not be possible to boycott Google, he said that the search engine and similar sites will not become the newspapers and TV stations of the future.
“If we need to cover news, Google, Twitter and Youtube are not doing it,” he said.
Though the night ended without naming a solution to the problems journalism faces, all the panelists said it will take time and observation over the next few years to see results.
For Baker, he is optimistic about the changes and has high expectations for the newest group of media professionals. “I am excited about it,” he said. “The younger generation is going to be the pioneers of it.”