A Night At The Press Club

Monday night, a few hundred media types — and students — gathered at the National Press Club for the latest installment of the Kalb Report, moderated by Marvin Kalb.

The topic was, broadly enough, “The Future of Journalism,” and the panel included Ann Marie Lipinski, senior vice president and editor of the Chicago Tribune, Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports, Cliff Sloan, publisher of Slate and vice president of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, and Paul Steiger, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and vice president of Dow Jones & Company.

On the subject of female news anchors — more specifically, Katie Couric — the point was made that some viewers just aren’t comfortable with a woman reading the nightly news. Couric, it was noted, also has to deal with issues that her male counterparts do not (no one ever analyzes Brian Williams’ clothes or the maintenance of his eyebrows).

When asked if the Tribune Co. will change ownership within five years, Ann Marie Lipinski said that it likely would, especially with the economic factors to which journalism is now beholden. She also noted that journalism has more consumers now than ever before — even if physical newspaper circulation is declining.

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The discussion then turned to online media, where Sloan was asked if Slate magazine will serve as a model for other online magazines. He said it would, particularly because of the low cost of running an online magazine compared to the costs associated with a print magazine.

When asked why there were so few competitors to Slate, Sloan was quick to point out that there had, in fact, been several — they had just failed, mostly because quality can be elusive online.

Kalb then posed the question: Is it possible to maintain high quality with so many outlets for news? And if so, why is there the impression that the quality of journalism is collapsing? The point was then made that pressure from the business model — that is, stockholders wanting lower costs and higher profit margins — can certainly drive down quality. But a certain sort of Darwinism will ensure that the best quality news will survive.

On the subject of wall-to-wall coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith and the subsequent trial, it was more or less admitted that “cable news networks have to fill 24 hours of programming with something.” It was also noted that there was far less coverage on the networks, but also that the network that covered Smith the most had three times the ratings of its competitor.

To close the discussion, Kalb asked each panelist if they would still choose journalism if they had to start their career over again. Predictably, they all said yes, that it was exciting, etc.

When they allowed questions, however, things got a little more interesting. Case in point: After a few questions about blogging, former White House reporter Jeff Gannon took to the microphone and asked a question about media bias.

There was also a bit of tension when a Post employee (we didn’t catch his name) was cut off by Kalb after he took exception to Kalb’s assertion that very few papers have day-to-day coverage of the Iraq war.

All in all, an enjoyable and educational panel. And judging by the crowd of students in the hall, the hors de vours were a big hit, as well.