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Monday, May 21, 2007

A Future for Newspapers?

I guess I won't be applying to any newspapers for work even though I have a Masters degree in Broadcast Journalism and am sort of in the job-seeking market. At a forum put on by the Stanford University Department of Communication, Bill Keller, Executive Editor of the New York Times, Gary Pruit, CEO of The McClatchy (Newspaper) Co., and Harry Chandler, former co-owner of the LA Times all agreed that there was no roadmap for the hemorrhaging newspaper industry - victims of the internet and general cultural shift away from reading news - and times would get bleaker before they get brighter. Papers get 85% - 90% of their income from ads and Craigslist alone has siphened off a huge amount of that revenue stream.

Chandler, whose family sold the LA Times said there were four likely options for newspapers:
1) A dramatic amount of layoffs and buyouts
2) Diversification (for example the Washington Post bought the Kaplan SAT-Test company)
3) Leverage the brand (big newspapers have credibility that should be valuable to some other business ventures)
4) Ownership will shift toward the pro sports model where many owners do it for the ego boost etc. rather than profits

One telling statistic (relative to cutbacks) was given by Keller, who said that when the war in Iraq was just underway and Saddam was ousted there were 1,000 reporters there. Now there are 45.

Pruitt, of McClatchy, was most optimistic saying that papers have been through the same sort of cataclysmic paradigm shifts before, when radio and then TV came "online." He's confident that newspapers will find new life on the web, albeit not as profitable as the last half of the 20th century.

Writeup in the Stanford Daily

Two months ago, I organized an evening lecture/conversation with former Tech Columnist turned Citizen Journalism activist, Dan Gillmor. He was asked a similar question about the future for newspapers and was similarly vague about the immediate future before new paradigms emerge. Here's a video clip with his full response:

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