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tv   The Future of News  PBS  November 17, 2011 4:30am-5:00am PST

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>> this program is brought to you by a grant from the ford foundation... >> newspapers, magazines. dead and dying or just evolving with the times? with the economic model collapsing, big name publications have been stopping the presses. in the future, will the newsstand go the way of the phone booth? will the news be fit to print? >> the printed paper, i think, is dying. i think most people are getting their news on the internet. >> 70 million people, or 1/3 of internet users, have visited a newspaper website. is the internet killing printed news, or is it giving it a whole new global platform? can print survive in the digital world? that's our topic today on "the future of news."
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>> a government without a tough and vibrant media of all sorts is not an option for the united states of america. >> i think a lot of it's been, frankly, much more about corporate greed. >> there's got to be a revenue model that works, and clearly the current one doesn't. and everyone is scrambling to fix it. >> from the newseum in washington, d.c., this is "the future of news." welcome to the knight studio and our conversation about media and news in the digital age. i'm frank sesno. joining me today are two visionary media leaders with unique and important print. tina brown is well-known for her award-winning career as a magazine editor, leading the "new yorker" and "vanity fair" to extraordinary success. more recently she launched the popular website the daily beast and is now developing a new approach to digital book publishing. ken paulson was the editor of "usa today" and was one of the first newspaper editors to put content on-line, way back in
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1993. he was also the executive director of the first amendment center. full disclosure: ken is currently also the president of the freedom forum in the newseum, the producers of this program. so welcome to you both. thanks for coming in. let's start with a really simple question but one that i am asked almost anytime i talk to anybody who cares, and that is, can print news survive this digital revolution? tina, what do you think? >> i think print is in crisis, and we're still doing triage. but i think at the end of it, we will have print products, but there will be fewer of them than there are today. >> it survives, but real different. >> yes. >> ken? >> i agree. i think there are literally generations of americans who have grown up reading print, who see the inherent value in it. and, frankly, thanks to the work of modern medicine, we're all gonna live a lot longer, and there will be an audience for print publications for a long time. >> a lot of people are wringing their hands and wondering about this, though, because if it survives but in some vastly diminished form-- you know, people think the sky will fall or we'll be less well-informed or
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something bad is going to happen. is it a bad thing? >> well, i've gone from thinking it's a bad thing to thinking it is an inevitable thing. and we have to almost stop wondering if it's a bad thing. it is happening. so the question is, how do we at the end of it emerge with a vibrant, incredibly well-sourced, and important media while that process is going along? but i don't think it's really an "if" anymore. >> well, using the term print is kind of a red herring because it really doesn't matter how many trees you cut down to produce these products. what matters is, will there be professional journalists that currently work for print publications whose work will still be visible and available? and that's the real threat to journalism. >> mm-hmm. tina, you were the editor, as we mentioned earlier, of several very successful and profitable magazines. that matters, too, of course. "vanity fair," "new yorker." you wrote, you grew the subscription rates and revenues substantially. what's happened to magazines because magazines--in fact, i have this here. according to
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"folio," 279 magazines folded, closed in the first half of 2009 alone. >> yeah, it's been a really brutal 12 months for magazines, which is distressing as someone who's always loved magazines. i think there's no doubt that we're going to see a great reduction in magazines. i think, for instance, that any kind of sort of self-help kind of magazines, any sort of service magazines are going to wind up exclusively on-line. >> exclusively on-line? >> yes, i do. i think those magazines will vanish. i think that the magazines that will still prosper are ones which have a more visual excitement, glossy paper. i think that the upscale magazines are in a better place, actually, than the sort of mid-market magazines. you're seeing a tremendous reduction and interest in, for instance, the news magazines, which, you know, i hate to be negative but i suspect that they may not be around 5 years from now. >> ken, about paying journalists and informing the public 'cause that's really what this is about--informing the public. here's another one. according to "silicon alley insider" at the end of june, 105 newspapers had closed.
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at the end of june 2009, 105 newspapers. and some of these are in places--or they've gone completely on-line. "rocky mountain news," "seattle post-intelligencer." even the "detroit free press" isn't printing every day anymore. >> i think that number is inflated. i'm not sure how they define newspapers. really, about 1% of america's newspapers have gone out of business in the last year-- daily newspapers--and those are the ones that do-- >> i think these are also these little community papers that just can't make it, but they play a role, too, though. >> there is a sense that newspapers are dying overnight, and that's really not the case. in fact, most newspapers in america are still making a profit. and if they can find a way to control their costs, they will be around for a very long time to come. the sky is not falling, but it's a little shaky. >> where is the growth? >> certainly not in print. >> where is the growth? >> well, you see, i'm not quite sure that internet is the only thing that's damaging newspapers. of course, we've also seen them damaged by the advertising recession that we've been experiencing. but for instance in england,
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where i hail from, there's still a very, very vibrant-- >> i thought that was a new york accent i was hearing. ha ha! >> ha ha. there's still a very vibrant--plural--newspaper culture. >> a totally different culture. but it's a different public culture, too. >> it is, but, you know, the fact is that the internet is also thriving in the uk. so i'm not sure that it's only about the internet. i think a lot of it's been, frankly, much more about corporate greed, hollowing out these newspapers, cutting and cutting and cutting the editorial content of it in order to make bigger and bigger profit margins. and in the end, of course, what happens is when you hollow out content is that people stop being interested in buying it. and it's a terrible syndrome that we've seen in the big newspapers in america. >> it's not just holding a newspaper in your hands. it's what goes into the newspaper that you hold in your hands. so what happens when print editorial judgment meets web technology? sonya gavankar has a few sites she'd like to show us now. sonya? >> frank, the daily beast is a curated site that reflects what tina and her team think are the most important topics of the day. its home page is designed
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to give you a quick read on what's happening. for original content, go to "blogs & stories." these are insider accounts on what's going on in politics, entertainment, arts, and business. they also have a gallery in their video section of great viral videos. for the book beast, you can get the hottest books on the market, and a launching pad for a new effort that tina was referencing to speed up the process of creating digital books and getting them into print faster. "the cheat sheet" is a list of the big stories condensed into one paragraph with links back to the source. in many cases, the source is a newspaper. now, if you want to see newspapers, go to newseum's "today's front pages." it's a great site. and, yes, we're tooting our horn here just a little bit. you can get 700 front pages, and you can see how news is covered all over the world. look through the thumbnails to find your favorite paper or use the map to find it there. find the newspaper, and if you're interested, you can click through to that newspaper's website. each day the newseum highlights
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10 of the most interesting papers and highlights them. it's a fascinating way to see how different papers cover the news. frank? >> let's go to the front page. and sonya was talking about the front page. i love front pages. i have collected front pages since i was a kid. i have the kennedy assassination front page, i have the man walks on the moon front page. i have the 2001 front page. if we lose the front page, ken, what do we lose? it's not just a kid's fascination and an ability to collect, it seems to me. >> well, the front page at a good newspaper reflects what the community cares about most. and having someone in that town who lives in that community say, you know, "lawrence, you need to look at this." "indianapolis, you need to look at this. this matters to our town." that matters a great deal. and the other interesting thing about the collection of front pages we have every single day, for all the people who like to call the media as though it were a singular unit... >> right. >> you go and look at the front pages on our website, you see diverse voices in every community. you see different stories dominating every day.
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and i think that's one of the glories of front page journalism that reflects the values of each small town in america and every big city. >> all right, tina. let me go toe-to-toe with tina brown for a minute here--at great peril to myself, i realize--and suggest to you that what's on the front pages that people get on-line is not the same. it's not the same quality. it's not the same curation. >> well, i just totally disagree... >> i know it. which is why i said i'd go toe-to-toe. ha ha! but often it's because it's the front pages that they select. and that's great for their own interest, but it's not the same as getting it from somebody who's been in the business for 20 or 30 years. >> well, that's what we do at the daily beast. and we do select that front page. we have 6 stories in that top box, which we've absolutely programmed and have chosen and have assigned mostly, except for the opening image, which is always gonna be a piece of hot breaking news, but that front page is assembled every bit like a newspaper, but it's a live newspaper. it has a wonderful vibrancy to it that i find is
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incredibly exciting. the first time i put out my first--i've always wanted to edit a newspaper. never did. i've done magazines. i've done weeklies, i've done a monthly. i've done a tv show. i have not ever edited a newspaper, and i'm married to a great newspaper editor from london and always was envious that he'd had a newspaper. what i find with what we're doing on the beast is it's like a sort of "harry potter" version of a newspaper. i mean, it's alive. the thing is alive... >> you're playing quidditch every day. ha ha! >> it's just amazing to be able to see that box, that still image, and then click on it, and it's talking at you. >> i want to ask you a very important question here about the way sites like this survive. some of it is with original content, but a lot of it--and tina mentioned it--is aggregated content. that is, taking the best of--whatever your judgment is--from other organizations, often print newspapers, and posting them. and you don't pay the newspaper for that content. the user can get to it for free. it's a great thing, but is it helping to drive the stake through the heart of newspapers?
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>> well, i think those days are over. i think you're gonna see aggregators in serious trouble, trying to get content from content providers in the future. because the model used to be, you made a buck with a newspaper through advertising. well, classified advertising dried up and competition from the web intensified. and along came a generation that would rather read its news digitally than with papers. that's not a great business model. so you've got to find a way to support your journalists. and, frankly, the way to do it now will be to charge for your content. and the theory was, if you let other people use it, they'd drive traffic back to your site and you'd sell advertising. but that advertising has plateaued. it's clearly not the future. that's not the salvation for the industry. we have to go to a fee model. people have to pay for journalists. there has to be a mechanism for having people go out and ask tough questions. >> giving voice to the voiceless? >> oh, absolutely. i mean, it's not a coincidence that this nation was founded with a bill of rights in 1791 after the ratification of the constitution with a commitment to a free press. the american people whether they realize it all the time or not depend on a free
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press to keep an eye on people in power. and we can't lose that. >> how do we save it? >> well, there's got to be a revenue model that works. and clearly the current one doesn't. and everyone is scrambling to fix it. >> so if newspapers keep disappearing, who will cover the community? sonya gavankar is going to show us one site that's taking that approach. sonya? >> frank, that site is the voice of san diego. it's a real pioneer in nonprofit on-line local news. it launched in 2005 with backing from a philanthropist and focuses on the local angle of big issues-- issues like education, science, and politics. there's special reports that focus on investigative journalism. and their mission includes citizens becoming advocates for good government. even though they have a very small staff, they publish a lot of stories. and their reporters also blog. go to their blog section to get blogs from reporters like rob davis, who writes about the environment in a section called "in the muck." they have teamed up with local nbc stations and have their stories appear on air as well as
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on-line. >> ...rob davis with our on-line media partner-- first reported on these problems with expenses at the agency. and he joins us now... >> the voice of san diego-- a great example of a nonprofit news site offering an alternative to local newspapers. frank? >> thanks. well, the "new york times" said this about that site, by the way: "their news coverage and hard-digging investigative reporting stand out in an internet landscape long dominated by partisan commentary, gossip, vitriol in citizen journalism posted by unpaid amateurs." so are nonprofit local news sites the answer? is there enough philanthropist interest to make that work? what do you think? >> you know, when you're talking about philanthropists writing checks, that's a real x-factor. in most communities, there are people who are civic-minded, who would love to keep an eye on government and do some local reporting, but it takes some resources to do it meaningfully. who's gonna pore through a city budget? they're not gonna get that posted to their facebook account. >> ok, so, tina, i pick up the phone, and i call you, and i live in hartford, connecticut. and my newspaper, the "hartford courant," is in trouble. maybe it's gonna shut down. and i got some money.
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i'm a venture capitalist or somebody who, you know, is prepared to take some risk, and i say, "ok, you've been in all these things. come on up to hartford and tell me how i can make this work." what would you tell me? >> i think that i would say. have a website. maybe do a weekly--weekend magazine. i think that daily newspapers are not gonna be here. >> and you're gonna tell me i can make money from that? >> i think you can on advertising. i still believe that advertisers are going to want to reach certain passionate audiences. and i think we're gonna see that class--you know, segregated communities of target audience are gonna be much more important to people than mass audiences, that it's about passion now, not so much about numbers. >> and if i made it a conference call, ken, and you joined us and i said, ok, i'm gonna do what she says, but should i put out a print version of this as well? what would you tell me? >> probably not. well, it depends on what the "hartford courant's" books look like and what percent of their revenue's
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being driven by print. >> well, i'm not the "hartford courant." i'm somebody-- i'm a whole new operation here. >> if i'm starting something new in a community like hartford, i would go on-line and i'd make some basic commitments. one is you're gonna get every school lunch menu. you're gonna get every city council agenda. i'm gonna have somebody sitting in the front row at every city council meeting and the planning and zoning commission. and i'm gonna tell you what every high school team did last night and who's playing next friday. i would make some basic commitments to the community and deliver on that and not be a lot more ambitious than that because the business model won't support-- >> and you'd say don't print. >> we probably don't need to print that kind of product. >> a question to both of you. let's think of this as a race between newspaper sites trying to shrink down and become multimedia and new media-- multimedia sites trying to ramp up and aggregate and do original content, combining the edge, the attitude, all of that, to be a relevant and a survivable site. who wins? the traditional media trying to shrink down and stay in the game
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or the new media ramping up? >> there are different markets and different models. i mean, the more niche your audience, the more specialized your content, the more likely you'll be successful. and a lot of the major organizations that are trying to shrink down are general interest. and they've got to pick their shots. at "usa today," we put together a list of 8 to 10 areas in which we wanted to excel, we wanted to do better than anybody else, because if we kept trying to do everything on-line, it wasn't gonna work out. >> i tend to think that internet-conceived sites are actually fresher and more innovative than those that come out of big existing structures. it's just so hard to dial things back and down. and it just lumbers you with all this infrastructure and all these attempts to constantly think about the process of getting there whereas the great thing-- what i've really loved doing with this new thing i'm doing is that, you know, it can expand as it develops organically. there isn't any sense of, "well, we can't do that because we got this," and "how does this relate to the existing thing?"
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and all of that stuff is such a handicap because the web is such an innovative, speedy, impromptu, spontaneous medium. >> and we've seen it in los angeles and chicago-- i mean huge markets-- boston and new york, where these old media empires-- they own buildings, they own all these salaries, they've got overseas obligations, and they're just chopping and chopping. and in some cases, they're on or near or have been in bankruptcy. >> i mean, wouldn't you think that only sort of 10, 12 years ago there was no google, no facebook, and no twitter. and these are the giant brands of the 21st century. really. they're the giant brands. >> but--but this is not the first time people have written obits, as we call them, for newspapers. you know, we've been down this road before. radio and television were both supposed to kill newspapers. we heard that, too. so we'd like to show you now courtesy of the newseum archives an excerpt from the first episode of "the today show." it's january 14, 1952. dave garroway is talking about flying in that day's newspapers
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from all around the country. >> we fly in the newspapers from the most important american cities every day. the airlines do a wonderful job for us. they fly them in. and, actually, the morning papers, here's the "minneapolis morning tribune" monday morning, this very morning. and here it is. and a guy who lives in wilmington, delaware, can see that the big story in minneapolis is truman withdrawing clark's appointment to the vatican, or dog leads rescuer to frozen woman. so that the whole country by means of this show is more closely put together. >> ha ha! the whole country is more closely--it feels almost like sort of that day's version of surfing the web. >> it's extraordinary, i know. it's very extraordinary what we've all lived through in this last, you know, 25, 30 years. it's incredible to think--i'm just amazed at the last couple of years that we've seen such a revolution in the way we absorb media that we're looking at newspapers just vanishing in
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front of our eyes. >> let us then conclude where we began with a slight twist. and hats off to dave garroway. can print news survive the digital revolution, then, as it survived television and radio? >> absolutely. but i think we have to separate ourselves from the notion of paper. there will be a generation of technology that will come along that will feel like paper, that will have the same textural appearance, and will read like a newspaper, but it will be battery-operated, and you'll be able to take it anywhere. and wherever that occurs, where the declining print, paper readership goes down and the new technology comes up, wherever that nexus is, that's the future of american journalism and the future of america's newspapers. >> i'm afraid i agree because i have become a convert of kindles, which i never expected to. i love books. i love physical books. i love the t smell of a book. but i have to say that the kindle is a very easy way to read things. and in a way, i find i'm reading more on my kindle than i even do with books. so i think it'll
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happen. it just is about the generational shift. >> so let's go to the audience now and hear some questions from them. hi. go ahead with your question. >> hi. my question is, what would you advise a college student who is seriously contemplating a career in journalism? >> i would recommend it wholeheartedly, even though the business model is a little shaky right now. you think about the skills you develop as a budding journalist. you learn to take information, gather it, take it and restate it in a way that the public will understand. you also learn something valuable like subject-verb agreement. [laughter] all of those things will serve you well in whatever profession you pursue. and journalism is a great foundation for all the work you might do. >> well, i would advise that whatever job they take, it should be in somewhere small because i think the big mistake sometimes young journalists think is that they would like to go work for some big important thing, you know. but actually, it's a very bad idea to do that. you're much better off starting with something very small with
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a small ambition but where you're doing everything because that's the way to get to learn how to be good because you have to write the headlines and do the cover and find the pictures and fact-check it and get it right. and that's what i did at "tatler." it was a tiny staff, and it was wonderful because i learned how to do everything. and that will serve you in good stead whether you go on-line or in print or in television, even. that you are actually physically responsible and having the stress of it and knowing it's you alone against the deadline in a sense. >> your question. >> do you feel that print journalism is always going to play a role in the market because it has a little bit more accuracy, more accountability to the actual newspaper? >> i don't think that accuracy is only the realm of print. i think that's really about which site you go to because there are many sites which are sort of free for alls, where you can't trust the accuracy. and then there are some others which are very credible. and i think it's really a question of deciding for yourself which one is the one that's authentic and staying there. but there is a high standard now. and i think the days when it was the wild
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west are beginning to recede somewhat. it will always be like that out there, but there are also a number of sites now-- really quite a lot--that are edited by very credible people who care as much about accuracy as they ever did in print. >> ken, what's the take of a newspaper man to that? >> i do think it's valuable to recognize the merits of each medium. and you are going to get in my view much more accurate content in a newspaper than--and you get a lot more speed on-line. when michael jackson passed away, "usa today," when i was there, i implemented a number of very stringent guidelines on not using anonymous sources. we wanted to know what we knew and publish it after we confirmed it. so michael jackson's death is everywhere on the web. people are reporting it over and over again, and there are people posting angry remarks on "usa today's" site saying, "don't you people watch cnn?" "don't you read the huffington post?" and the staff at "usa today" was going, "we don't know that michael jackson's dead, and we're not about to report that yet." and so they were willing to trade speed for what in time
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would be veracity. i think that each of those two media have different strengths, and it depends what you're shopping for. >> ken, before we go, i have to do this. you know, there's all these... [laughter] but, you know, to sort of a grizzled newspaper veteran, you know, it's a storied tradition. we've captured it in the movies from "the front page" to woodward and bernstein and "all the president's men." in the career that you've had, what's your favorite newspaper story? what's your favorite or most storied day or moment in your life? >> ha ha. so i just want to be clear. you just referred to me as "a grizzled newspaper man." was that-- >> i mean that in the kindest way. >> the kindest way. you know, there are just so many glorious nights in newsrooms as you well know. and it's almost always the next story. you know, election night in a newsroom where democracy is, you know, the future of democracy is in play. just nothing is more rewarding that that. but, you know, once you feel like you've seen the
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biggest story ever, another one comes along. and you go, "i never want to leave this business." and for young people who are thinking about going into journalism, you can say this, too. i mean, it's still one of the greatest jobs on the planet, and you ought to pursue it. >> and it's still a meritocracy. if you're good, if you can write, if you can tell a story. you can be 22 or 25 and have these unbelievable opportunities. you don't have to wait in line. >> it's true. you know, one thing that's very thrilling, actually, at the daily beast is just seeing these young kids coming out of journalism school because most of them are young--very young--they're coming out of a columbia journalism course, the radcliffe program, et cetera. and we've got a great team... >> george washington university. [laughter] >> they are! george washington university. they absolutely are. they just are so creative. and what's the most thrilling thing, actually, for me is when i've been away for a couple of days, and i haven't, in fact, been sort of hovering around and i log on. and there's some wonderful--a gallery of something or some witty idea or some terrific piece that i just have no idea where it came from and i say, "how did that
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get there?" they say, "oh, the kids did that." and i love that. there's something very regenerative about it. and it makes you realize that that kind of energy and creativity will always be there whether it's in a newsroom or in a website or in a tv station, is that media junkies are always going to be amongst us and hopefully will still give their best. >> still give their best. tina, ken, thanks to you both. i really appreciate it. terrific. that's all today for "the future of news." join us next time. from the knight studio at the newseum in washington, d.c., i'm frank sesno. >> thank you. >> thank you, frank.
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