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Amid declining sales, panel examines newspapers’ future

Justin Tardiff | Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The future of the daily newspaper is not doomed, as long as those who work for them are willing to change, six journalism professionals said at a panel discussion Monday.”

The forum, hosted by the Notre Dame Gallivan Program in Journalism, Ethics and Democracy, examined the changes the field of journalism has undergone in the 10 years since the Gallivan Program was founded. Panelists also wrestled with what the future might hold for the delivery of daily news.

Participants in the panels were all members of the Gallivan Program’s advisory committee and included Dan LeDuc, deputy national editor of The Washington Post; Bill Dwyer, who worked as sports editor for the Los Angeles Times for 25 years; John McMeel, founder and CEO of Andrews McMeel Universal; Bill Mitchell, director of publishing and on-line editor for the Poynter Institute for Media Studies; Anne Thompson, chief financial correspondent for NBC in New York; and Tom Bettag, executive producer of Discovery Networks.

Robert Schmuhl, American Studies department chair and director of the Gallivan Program, began the forum by highlighting the dwindling interest in newspapers during the last 10 years, noting that newspaper readership fell from 50 to 40 percent since 1996.

He posed the question to panelists: “Change … what on earth will the next decade bring?”

Panelists spoke about issues of print and broadcast journalism – how the fields have changed and will continue to change as the Internet becomes a major source of information.

LeDuc said that despite decreasing newspaper sales at The Washington Post – circulation has been falling since at least 1996, when readership was more than one million – Washingtonpost.com has experienced a surge in readership.

“When you account for the new readers that go to Washingtonpost.com there are more people reading Washington Post journalism today than ever before in history,” LeDuc said.

“The newspaper is not dead, but I think they are struggling and trying to figure out their future. I will say that newspapers continue to help set the national news agenda for the country.”

Dwyer agreed with LeDuc, noting that print journalism is experiencing the challenge of “how to marry two worlds” and find a balance between traditional print journalism and continuously updated news on the Internet.

The future of newspapers, Dwyer said, will be in strengthening the traditional newspaper while simultaneously investing in the Internet.

“Don’t ever underestimate the old and the established … the best news sites in America are newspaper sites,” he said.

Rather than focusing on how news is delivered, journalists must concentrate on the content of their stories, McMeel said.

“We need to think a lot harder about what constitutes news,” McMeel said. “Journalists, whether they work for newspapers, magazines, online sites or TV stations, will have to develop a true understanding of customer news and information needs.

“Journalists will have to adapt accordingly … but without a doubt over the next 10 years, there will be a great need for journalists who can report, write and communicate.”

The challenge for the journalist, McMeel said, “will be to learn how to listen to the consumer, give them what they want, and find a way to deliver news and information that the consumer needs to know.”

Mitchell addressed newspaper values as a key component of journalism that he believes must always remain part of the field, regardless of how the news is delivered.

“Newspaper values are going to be what continue throughout the next 10 years,” he said.

“Whether news is distributed on newsprint or through the Internet, newspaper values of fairness and objectivity, of enterprise reporting I hope are the sort of values, that prevail and affect in a good way.”