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More on the Publishers and Editors Roundtable: The Long View for Newspapers in the Digital Age

Posted by tberens on September 11, 2008

The Fred W. Smith Forum was bursting with aspiring and seasoned journalists alike as host of the Roundtable, Everette E. Dennis of the Fordham University Graduate School of Business, began the session. Dennis promised the attendants that this was an interactive session: we were as much a part of the roundtable as the veteran panelists.

“How many of you are students?”

A healthy number of hands proudly shot up.

“How many of you are alumni of the J-School?”

Much of the remainder of the room raised their hands.

“How many of you have worked in the newspaper business?

A large portion of the room had been part of a newspaper at some point. Now for the real question:

“How many of you are feeling optimistic about the newspaper business?”

A moderate number of tentative hands rose. We laughed, but the newspaper’s current shaky reality could not be ignored.

Ken Paulson (BJ ’75) of USA TODAY reminded us that newspapers are not new. “They were the iPod of 1690,” he joked. Still, thought, he claimed to be bullish about the future of newspapers. The business model, on the other hand, leaves Paulson feeling pessimistic. “It is valuable to remember that the First Amendment guarantees the right to publish, not to profit.”

Janet E. Coats (BJ ’84) of The Tampa (Fla.) Tribune believes that part of the challenge of the changing newspaper industry is the problem of expression one faces when publishing online. It is extremely difficult to express the same things online that could be printed in a newspaper.

Michael Golden (MA ’78) of The New York Times Company offered an interesting insight into the shift from print to online media in today’s society. The print edition of The New York Times has a readership of about three to four million per day, while the online version boasts nearly eight to nine million. These statistics further illustrate the changing nature of the industry.

Paulson offered a more optimistic anecdote. He pointed out that, on a recent survey, 93 percent of students on a college campus with a Collegiate Readership Program had read a newspaper during the previous week. He also mentioned that 89 percent of USA TODAY’s revenue comes from the print edition.

Lewis W. Diuguid (BJ ’77) of The Kansas City Star said that the newspaper industry needs to change their approach to covering sensitive issues in order to appeal to a wider audience. He believes that newspapers are failing to address what readers really care about in their lives. “We’re missing the boat,” he said.

After the panelists offered their insights on the fate of newspapers, the floor was opened up for a discussion with the audience. Throughout the session, the presence of technology prevailed. Digital recorders, laptops and PDAs were far more popular than the average spiral-bound notebook.

As promised, the roundtable remained interactive throughout. Dennis ended the session with another question.

“How many of you are feeling optimistic about the newspaper business?”

Far fewer hands rose this time.

By David Oster and Theresa Berens
For full version with images, visit here.

**BLOG EDITOR ADDITION** Reynolds Journalism Institute Fellow Bill Densmore recorded the event. Visit the link to hear it.

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