After wrapping up two days of the Personal Democracy Forum yesterday, we ran over to a panel hosted by Reuters and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers discussing the future of journalism in a multimedia world.
Moderated by Reuters’ global managing editor Betty Wong, the panel included New York Times business and financial editor Lawrence Ingrassia, a very pregnant Financial Times U.S. managing editor Chrystia Freeland, Columbia Journalism School dean Sree Sreenivasan and mediabistro.com founder Laurel Touby.
Wong opened up the conversation by asking the panelists how media companies can make the best of all their resources, in order to take advantage of the many different platforms available.
“We all have to ask ourselves, ‘What do our readers really want?'” Freeland said. She added that journalists are entrepreneurial at heart and want to create a brand and a Web presence for themselves, but it’s up to the editors and management to decide what’s best for the news organization. “The turning point came when journalists realized that it is in their personal interest to have a Web presence,” she said. “Journalists became journalists to become famous and make a name for themselves.”
Photo: Thomson Reuters Markets CEO Devin Wenig (right) introduces the panel featuring (from left) Touby, Sreenivasan, Freeland and Ingrassia
Ingrassia said the Web has made traditional news organizations like the Times realize “the immediacy of news.” Although the Times still publishes long form, in-depth stories in its paper a day or two after an event occurs, it now has stories up on its Web site as soon as possible, and it keeps updating them in order to draw readers back frequently. “If we don’t and our competitors do, we’re going to find ourselves in the same situation as the auto industry,” he said of the paper’s thinking as the Web was becoming a main source of news for the public.
Freeland suggested that this convergence of print and Web might eventually lead to fewer journalists in the field. The traditional local newspaper model may have contributed to an “over supply of journalists and the content they produce,” she said. But Columbia J-school dean Sreenivasan said there is no sign that interest in the field is slowing. In fact, the school saw a 40 percent increase in applications this year.
“Everyone goes back to school when the economy is bad,” he said. “But that would only account for maybe a 10 percent increase in applications.”
Freeland suggested that journalists and publications will just have to become more specialized in order to survive in the new, pared down Web-heavy media environment. For FT this meant becoming more nerdy, she said. “We’re the geeky kid in high school who will never be cool,” Freeland said, explaining why FT decided to move away from sports coverage and drop extraneous sections. “When we try to be cool we’re bad at it, and people don’t want us to do it.”
Digital entrepreneur Touby summed it up succinctly: readers want service. “Think more like a start-up. Think smaller,” she advised. “Say yes to all your reporters who come up with a crazy idea. Listen to your audience. They’ll tell you what they want and what they’ll pay for.”
Watch a video of last night’s panel here.