Diane Rehm and guests are discussing the fate of the newspaper industry on NPR.
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Rieder: Many newspapers are at risk. Nobody has a business model to replace print. This isn’t about newspapers as print project but preserving the reporting we need.
Rehm: is unsure how long the agreement between the Globe unions and the NY Times Co will hold.
Hall: Most journalists don’t want the government involved (in enabling media ownership). I’m not saying (Kerry’s plan) is what we should do, but we do have public broadcasting, we license TV stations, we talk about nonprofit foundations. Newspapers need to innovate. We could have tax breaks, we could have subscription subsidies, we could pay for young people to have a newspaper subscription.
Rehm: Warren Buffet said the newspaper side of the Washington Post is already failing.
Hall: It’s not written that you can’t do journalism online, but newspapers do the expensive work.
Mutter: Subscriptions for young people are being tried in France but young people are not interested in them. Perhaps a third of the people under the age of 30 say they read the newspaper. When I poll my journalism students, they’re very interested in the news but 3/4 of them say the print product is irrelevant. Doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in the news, but it means they aren’t interested in acquiring and holding a newspaper.
Hall: My students read the web sites of brand name newspapers. How can we get them to see the connection between newsgathering and paying for it? They pay for iTunes.
Rieder: Newspapers’ audience is growing because people are accessing on the web.
Rehm: Who is controlling the people who may call themselves journalists because they are posting online? How do I as a reader make sure that if newspapers are gone, how do I know what I’m reading is accurate?
Rieder: Everybody’s on their own. More and more consumers have to take greater responsibility for vetting the info they get. Checking sources. Someday we will see new services like newspapers are today that review information and curate it.
Rehm: Can newspapers survive in their current form?
Rieder: Maybe in a year from now things won’t be quite so bleak.
Hall: We wont’ have newspapers thrown on people’s doors 30 years from now, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have news gathering. Not saying public broadcasting is perfect but it is a model. It is supporting journalism.
Rieder: I think there are enormous problems with having newspapers supported by the government. You’d have a tremendous credibility program.
Rehm: Why should newspapers pursue a failing business model?
ASNE president Martin Keiser: We’re getting 90% of our revenue from the newspaper. We need that revenue to make the transition.
Rehm: 10 years from now you won’t put out a hard copy newspaper?
Keiser: Don’t know. We may have a Sunday paper.
Rehm: What about the potential for involvement of the government in the newspaper industry?
Keiser: That makes me a little nervous.
Rehm: What about allowing newspapers to become tax exempt nonprofits?
Keiser: That would be a pretty tough road to go from profit to nonprofit model.
Hall: You have ProPublica which is trying to do foundation supported journalism. There are people trying different models. My concern is how do we have a national conversation. How do we have two reporters from the Washington Post spending two months at Walter Reed? That is what we’ve got to figure out.
Reider: That is the crux of the problem. We need the funding for reporters not only to do the Walter Reed project but just to cover the day to day news. You have many newspapers retreating from their commitments and that’s bad for everyone.
Mutter: There are 27 states in this country where there’s no newspaper representation covering Washington, D.C. I wholeheartedly share the concerns voiced today. Far fewer reporters looking at social problems, covering the arts, covering the Capitol.
Hall: There’s a migration of bylines to places like Politico. It’s a more niche publication. Let’s be creative.
Reider: We’re not just talking about the future, we’re talking about the present. AJR studied reporters covering state houses and found a 32% drop in just six years.
Rehm takes a call from a listener who says people are not willing to spend time in critical thought. They’d rather get news on Yahoo.
Hall: Yahoo is not gathering news. People need to be willing to pay. It’s regrettable that people expect it for free.
Another listener: It’s important to our democracy to get information. As a consumer I can say ‘buyer beware’ but that should not translate the same way from buying an automobile to managing a democracy.
Mutter: Who is going to provide the services of identifying, reporting, factchecking, and creating news? Newspapers have historically set the agenda because they have had the most reporters on the street. If newspapers can’t afford to be underwritten by advertisers then we need to find a new model. We have to start charging.
Senator John Kerry, is a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.
Alan Mutter, is a former newspaper editor who later ran three Silicon Valley companies. He comments on the impact of technology on the media at his blog, Reflections of a Newsosaur, at newsosaur.blogspot.com.
Jane Hall, is an Associate Professor of Journalism at American University. She covered the media for nine years for the Los Angeles Times.
Rem Rieder, is Editor and Senior Vice President of the American Journalism Review.
Martin Keiser, is Editor of the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel and President of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.