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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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Pulitzer Prize Panel

Posted by sjbutterfield on September 11, 2008

Wow, what a group. Thursday morning saw former Pulitzer winners Jacqui Banaszynski, Steve Fainaru, James Grimaldi, Jeff Leen, Mike McGraw, James Steele, Seymour Topping and author and Pulitzer researcher Roy Harris discuss their personal stories as well as the sustained significance of the Pulitzer, journalism’s most hallowed honor.

Harris, author of the book “Pulitzer’s Gold” may have hit it best when he quipped “if you’re humbled to be in this company, you’re not alone.”

Banaszynski kicked off the panel by relating the story behind her Pulitzer, which she won for covering AIDS in the heartland in the late 1980s. She revealed how the story had touched even her highly conservative rural Wisconsin mother, showing the power a personally touching story can have on even obdurate hearts and reflecting how journalism can transcend bias.

The large Fred Smith Forum in the new Reynolds Institute was packed with attentive listeners of all kinds, as dozens of foreign dignitaries joined students and professional journalists in lending their ears to the seasoned panelists. Five of the panelists were MU grads, including Washington Post writers Fainaru and Grimaldi, who serendipitously both graduated in 1984. All had clearly earned their merit as reporters, as they casually tossed around first hand reports of covering stories from the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal to exposing the cocaine trade.

Further, all of the panelists presented an optimistic picture of the future of journalism. Topping, the former Managing Editor of the New York Times and clearly the statesman of the group, himself a ’43 MU grad, gave parting words of encouragement, telling aspiring journalists that with hard work and diligence they can achieve great amounts, despite the difficulties journalism is facing in the modern era.

Steele, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair perhaps spoke best to the lasting meaning of the Pulitzer, saying “it’s a message to other people that these are the things you should be doing and the things that you should keep doing.”

Harris, for his part, spoke to the progression of journalism as it relates to the Pulitzer, explaining that the founding of the prize gave journalists some much needed legitimacy in a time where they were considered to be yellow scam artists. Harris described the establishment of the prize as “elevating the profession,” and elaborated that “you can really trace the advancement of American journalism through the advancement of the Pulitzer prize.”

At the end of the panel, the audience was certainly wowed. Two themes to take away: yes, we should be humbled, there was some serious star power in that room, but also, more importantly, the ability to make a difference is within our grasp, most of that panel was at one point very much in the shoes of a freshman journalism student, it’s all happening.

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