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Journalist discusses trade’s trends

John-Paul Witt | Friday, April 13, 2007

Despite a decline in the popularity of print and broadcast media, journalists will continue to be necessary – especially in light of the younger generation’s civic involvement – Judy Wood-ruff, senior correspondent on PBS’s “The News Hour with Jim Lehrer,” said Thursday.

Students, journalists and University dignitaries, including President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh, filled the Carey Auditorium in the Hesburgh Library to hear her deliver the annual Red Smith journalism lecture, titled “Are Journalists Obsolete?”

Woodruff was not optimistic about the current state of journalism, noting that “every sector of journalism” – especially newspapers – is losing readers or viewers as corporate scrutiny increases and executives downsize news organizations to ensure they are profitable.

“The Tribune Company – owners of the Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times – may soon cease to exist as we know it,” she said, “One of the great newspaper chains, Knight Ridder, vanished last year when it was sold. It was profitable, but not profitable enough.”

Woodruff also said the major news networks need to increase the amount of resources they spend on their news coverage. There are only half as many foreign correspondents with CBS, NBC and ABC now as there were 10 years ago, despite the increased interdependence of the planet’s countries, she said.

“With September 11 there were countless stories on why we don’t understand the world, yet none of the major TV networks had a correspondent based in a majority Muslim country,” she said.

But Woodruff said she was encouraged about the future of American journalism through her participation in Generation Next, a documentary for which she interviewed 500 students in 29 cities.

She found that young people were “far more up on national and international events” than their parents and professors may think and that the younger generations are more likely to get their news from the Internet than other sources.

Students were also more likely to engage in volunteer work, she said, citing the 90 percent of the Notre Dame student body that is involved in service projects as “an example for young people across the country.”

Woodruff connected the students’ commitment to community involvement to the future of journalism, saying high-quality reporting goes hand-on-hand with the expectations of these readers.

“A generation that is this civic-minded will be more receptive to good journalism. Satisfying those minds requires good content and good journalism,” she said.

Woodruff also predicted that as the younger generations mature, there will be more demand for high-quality content, as opposed news sources like the Drudge Report that often provide “false” stories.

“Good content is not just content,” she said. “It requires thought, imagination and discussion and planning in the newsroom about what [journalists] should be covering.”