The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA
Associated Press Managing Editors
Media Correspondent and Senior Producer
The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
Sponsors: The survey of all U.S. dailies with circulations of 20,000 and above was conducted for APME, the Pew Center for Civic Journalism and the National Conference of Editorial Writers
RICHARD RYAN, President, National Press Club: (Sounds gavel.) Good afternoon,
and welcome to the National Press Club. My name is Richard Ryan, and I am senior
Washington correspondent for the Detroit News and president of the National
Press Club. I would like to welcome Club members and their guests in the audience
today, and those of you who are watching on C- SPAN or listening to this program
on National Public Radio.
The video archive of today's luncheon is provided by Connect Live, and is available through the National Press Club Web site at press.org. National Press Club luncheons are also carried live by many sites on the World Wide Web. Press Club members may also access transcripts of our luncheons at our Web site, and non-members may purchase transcripts, audio and videotapes by calling 1-888-343-1940.
If you have any questions for our speaker, please write them on the cards that are provided at your table, and pass them up to me. But remember to write legibly, because if I can't read it I won't be able to ask it. And I will ask as many questions as time permits.
I would now like to introduce our head table guests, and ask them to stand briefly when their names are called. But please hold your applause until all head table guests are introduced. From your right and my left, Chuck Lewis, bureau chief, Hearst Newspapers; Jack Williams, weather editor, usatoday.com; Muriel Dobyn (ph), national political reporter, Washington bureau, McClatchey Newspapers; Bill Giles (ph), managing editor, the Washington Times; Marylou Foy (ph), foreign and national picture editor, the Washington Post; Carl Luebbsdorf (ph), Washington bureau chief, Dallas Morning News; Jan Schaeffer (ph), executive director, Pew Center for Civic Journalism; Ken Eskey, a former chairman of the National Press Club Speakers Committee; and, skipping over our two speakers for a moment, we have Sarah Stevens (sp), managing editor, BNA Pensions and Benefits Publications, and the member of the Speakers Committee who organized today's luncheon -- thank you, Sarah (sp); Chuck Stokes (ph), editorial director, WXYZ TV in Southfield, Michigan, and former president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers -- and he was president of that organization when the poll we will be talking about today was first initiated; Jack Nelson (sp), chief Washington correspondent, Los Angeles Times, and chairman of the Pew Center Advisory Board; Robert Rosenblatt (ph) of the Los Angeles Times; and Cesar Andrews (sp), editor, Gannett News Service, and incoming president of the Associated Press Managing Editors. (Applause.)
There is a revolution underway in America's newsrooms. A new comprehensive survey of the nation's top newspaper editors being released here today shows dramatic changes are occurring in the way editors view their mission and in the way they cover news. Chief among the findings is that readers increasingly want, and expect to have more interaction with their newspapers. Nine out of 10 editors polled said nothing less than the future of the newspaper industry depends on even more interactivity with their readers.
The survey was sponsored by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trust, the Associated Press Managing Editors Association, and the National Conference of Editorial Writers. It polled senior editors of the nation's 512 newspapers with a daily circulation of 20,000 or more. There was a 70 percent response rate.
Besides interaction with readers, the survey touches on such topics as the changing definition of what is news, and a newspaper's role in the community.
We have two speakers here today, Chris Peck and Terry Smith, to talk about the survey and what it means for the future of journalism, both newspapers and television. Chris Peck is editor of the Spokesman Review in Spokane, Washington, and president of Associated Press Managing Editors. The cliche that Peck has news in his blood is really true. His first job, at age 11, was as janitor at a family- owned newspaper in Riverton, Wyoming. His father and brother in fact continued to publish that newspaper. Peck graduated from Stanford University in 1972, where he wrote and edited for the Stanford Daily. After college, he served as editor of the Wood River Journal near Sun Valley, Idaho; and in 1975 he moved on to the Twin Falls Times News, where he served as city editor and managing editor. He was hired as a columnist by the Spokesman Review in 1979, and in 1982 he became editor of the newspaper, which has a circulation of 120,000 daily, and 150,000 on Sunday. Under his direction the newspaper has been cited 12 times as the best daily newspaper of the inland Northwest. It twice has been a Pulitzer finalist.
As president of the Associated Press Managing Editors, Peck leads an organization that serves as the primary contact between 1,500 daily newspapers and the Associated Press, the world's largest news- gathering cooperative.
Like Peck, Terry Smith has impeccable news credentials. A two- time Emmy Award winner, Smith is the media correspondent and senior producer of the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer. The son of a legendary New York Times sports columnist Red Smith, Smith joined his father at the New York Times shortly after his graduation from the University of Notre Dame in 1960. During his 20-year career at the Times, he served as bureau chief in Israel, Saigon, and Bangkok. As an assistant foreign editor, national political correspondent and chief White House correspondent. He twice was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize during his years at the Times, and he won the paper's publisher's award 22 times.
Smith moved to CBS News in 1985, where he worked for 13 years, including eight years as the senior correspondent for CBS News's Sunday morning program. He joined the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer in August of 1998, to organize and lead the media unit as a senior producer and correspondent. In 1999, and again last year, Smith was awarded the Arthur C. Rouse award by the National Press Club for press criticism.
So please join me in welcoming Chris Peck and Terry Smith to the National Press Club. (Applause.) First I think Chris.
CHRIS PECK, President, APME: Thank you. I indeed am Chris Peck, the president of Associated Press Managing Editors. And as you heard today, APME is a professional group of 1,500 leaders of the nation's newspapers that are members of the AP -- now, 1,499 of these folks are very hard- working, dedicating journalists. (Laughter. ) Now, there's one lousy, no-good lout who is not very good. So when your paper is late tomorrow morning, call him -- I'd really appreciate that.
I am also the editor of the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. My staff in this other Washington take some satisfaction in knowing that Columbia Journalism Review recently listed us as one of the 25 best papers in the country. But perhaps more important to us, we were also cited as one of the five papers where journalists might want to watch as a place where new ideas and innovations likely would emerge.
I grew up in Wyoming, the state the Census Bureau says is the least populated in the United States. But it is the home state to one of our favorite father figures, Vice President Dick Cheney. Let me say this -- Wyoming, Spokane -- I think it would be safe to say I have kind of lived an outside-the-Beltway life here -- (laughter) -- in my journalistic career. Heck, it's probably so outside the Beltway, until you got up here you thought I really lived in Spokane. I think that's probably -- and you may well lie awake at night worrying that if you run into the vice president on the streets you might actually call him Dick Cheney (pronounced CHEE-nee).
So it is a pleasure to be here to share with you some of the results of this remarkable poll that has been done with the help of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. The poll results that we are going to review today I think will tell you, as I hope they will, and as they told me, that many newspaper editors have in fact embraced many of the ideas of civic journalism as something that will be a defining principle for the success of newspapers in the 21st century. Now, indeed, I hope that is the case.
When I travel around the country as APME president, I meet a lot of editors,
and I can tell you that a lot of editors are very concerned about the future
of journalism. You know, the First Amendment does give us the right to a free
press, but there is nothing in the Constitution that says journalism itself
will survive. If you read the papers and if you look at the statistics, you
know that the audience in this country actually is slipping. The public is very
skeptical of what they read and see these days, and the competitors for the
time and money of our readers and advertisers rise with each new day.
But I come today with a message of optimism about the future of journalism. And in the first discussion of the results from this poll, which was sponsored again with APME, the National Conference of Editorial Writers and the Pew Center, I believe we are going to get a glimpse of what the future of journalism will be in the 21st century.
Now, before I get to the results though, I want to spend a few moments setting the stage for why APME and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism decided to do this poll. We did it because of the tumult and uncertainty that rocks newsrooms today. In an era of 24-hour talk shows, Internet headlines, nonstop speculation about the fate of Chandra Levy, there is no certainty the everyday work of journalists who are trying to report local news all across this country in support of an informed public, will survive.
Last night when I got here I took the channel changer and skimmed through the cable TV channels over at the J.W. Marriott, and I was reminded again about what an incredibly small sliver of the media spectrum news actually occupies. Infomercials -- we got a lot of those. Speculators and talking heads -- their future is bright. Music videos with a message -- no problem. But journalism? The telling of truths about events and ideas that affect public life? Well, the jury is out, and unfortunately that jury is carrying a cell phone that surfs the Internet.
Now, when I talked about editors, they are very concerned about the ability
of the media, particularly of newspapers, to hold the attention and regain the
trust of everyday citizens. They know if you sit an editor's desk today that
an awful lot of people are tuning out the whole world of civic affairs and what
journalists say about them. And the irony of course is that there is probably
more journalism being done in this country today than at any time in the last
30 years. From here in Washington, you know that there is a lot of great journalism
here. In the Pacific Northwest there is a lot of great journalism. There have
never been more trained or hard-working journalists at work than there are today.
But this great work in many parts of the country is not getting out to the public
as it once did. More people are getting their news from local television news
than from newspapers. More people are skimmers and streakers, as the poll confirms,
than deep readers of the news.
And let me give you just one example. I was talking to a friend of mine at Northwestern University who teaches journalism there. He did a poll in his very class of journalism students. Only 10 percent -- 10 percent spent any time at all focusing on national/international news.
Now, as you heard, I grew up in Wyoming in a newspaper family. This year marks by father's fifty-second year as the publisher of the Riverton Ranger. Now, when I was young and was a little boy in that little town in Wyoming, I remember very distinctly election night in 1960. I went down to the newspaper when I was 10 years old that night, and heard the AP Teletype coming in with the results of the Kennedy-Nixon race. And when Wyoming put Kennedy over the top in that race, there was a great round of cheers and boos inside that little newsroom. And the reason was that the public had filled the office of that newsroom, Republicans and Democrats alike, who had come to the newspaper to be part of an historic event. Well, the public doesn't come into newspapers much anymore. The public doesn't trust what they are going to find in there. The public doesn't think the newsroom is populated by people who share their values and beliefs.
Just before I came back here I was in Seattle to talk about a poll that was done in our part of the state about the way people thought about the media in Washington. That research showed that only 52 percent of the people where I live felt the local media shared the same beliefs and values as the rest of the committee. And that same research showed that no news outlet in the state of Washington -- no television station, no radio station, no newspaper -- received even a 50 percent rating for being balanced and fair in presenting the news.
Now, editors around the country know this. They feel this inside them. But what the Pew APME poll wanted to find out is whether editors are actually doing something or trying to do something about this disconnection with the public.
And the good news that I want to talk about today is that in fact the editors are trying to do something. The first compelling result to emerge from the APME Pew poll on the changing landscape of journalism is this, as we heard here before, but I want to repeat it: Nine out of 10 editors of all of the nation's newspapers over 20,000 circulation say, quote, "the future health of the newspaper industry depends upon more interaction with readers." Now, this finding in my view is a crucial and potentially industry-saving realization for editors who are looking ahead, and it is a realization that is markedly different from the newsroom culture of the last 30 years.
Since the Watergate right here in Washington, D.C., and since the rise of professional journalism schools, the advent of computer typesetting and really the emergence of what we would consider the modern newspaper, most editors have focused most of their creative work on the craft of journalism. They have emphasized better writing, they have emphasized better design, they have talked about increasing their staffing education, and the better printing of newspapers. But today, as a result of the APME Pew poll points out, editors have shifted their focus and are paying far, far more attention to the relationship that they have with their readers.
Now, let me note again that this was not a cherry-picked poll just of newspapers who were advocates of civic journalism. The APME Pew survey went to every newspaper, 512 newspapers in the country with circulations over 20,000 -- an astonishingly 70 percent of those editors eventually responded to that survey. Now, for that remarkable result we have to thank Jan Schaeffer (ph), the executive director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. Jan was a bulldog out there with her whip and her email and her phone calls. And so I want to acknowledge Jan, have her take a quick bow. Your work is most appreciated by our industry. (Applause.)
Now, what this survey underscores is that editors really aren't that dumb. Now, they may not be too good at returning phone calls or email, but they really aren't oblivious to what is happening around them. They know that the relationship that they have with their readers is strained. It is not unlike a bad marriage actually -- I don't know about that -- I have a good marriage, dear, if you are listening. (Laughter. ) But the trust is frayed, the affection is gone. Again, there is a certain paradox here, because since that Watergate era of journalism emerged there has been more brilliant investigative and enterprising journalism done in this country than at any other time. And the irony is that the success of that model in many ways sowed the seeds of dissatisfaction that we have today, because through the '70s, '80s, and even into the '90s, the dominant newsroom culture bred a generation of journalists detached from the very communities they serve. The successful journalist was often portrayed as a hired gun who rode into town, cleaned up the town of its scoundrels, and then rode off into the sunset -- or maybe more aptly drove off in a Volvo into the suburbs -- I don't know.
But let me be clear on one point before I go on. The problem facing journalism today is not investigative reporting in journalism. Far from it. As the Pew APME poll found, the very -- this core value is still there -- very strong -- ranks in the top three things that editors still think that their newspapers need to do.
But what the proponents of civic journalism came to understand early is that the greatest writing in the world won't make a whit of difference if nobody is there to read it -- if the readers have fled to TV, or if they have simply gone into their cocoons. And the tools and practices of civic journalism can and do play a tremendously positive role in keeping the connection with readers so they can when the time comes access the greater enterprising investigative reporting of the watchdog press.
So I want to go back just to a little history of civic journalism here to clear up something that I think plagued this experiment for a long time. Civic journalism has never been about getting away from investigative reporting or enterprise reporting. Rather, civic journalism arose from a concern over this growing disconnection between readers and newspapers and community life. It was an academic argument that simply said this, that if you can strengthen the connections between the media, the public and civic life, than all three of these disparate interests will benefit.
Now, all that sounds kind of high-falutin', and that explains why I think that the phrase "civic journalism," as the APME Pew poll found, still doesn't sit well with many editors. About half the editors polled still dislike the label.
I think it's important to remember, however, that civic journalism no longer is simply an academic exercise. About 20 percent of American editors now say they both embrace the label and actively exercise the tools and practices of civic journalism. But it is the action of the other 80 percent of editors that I find most revealing in this APME Pew poll. Many of these editors obviously said that they were uncomfortable with the "civic journalism" label, but they very quietly and very earnestly are employing the tools of civic journalism in their newsrooms everyday.
In fact, the poll shows that the far more important data about civic journalism's impact has nothing to do with the label, and everything to do with the practices. These tools and practices in the last decade in fact have been adopted by most newspapers in America. For example, the poll found that 51 percent of newspapers today include email addresses of reporters with their stories to make it far easier for readers to interact with reporters about their work. Now, among papers who embrace the civic journalism content -- or concept -- 63 percent publish e-mail addresses. The poll also found that seven in 10 of newspapers now offer readers one or more avenues to -- other than letters to the editor -- for publishing their own ideas and views. And this is a far cry, I can tell you, from a decade ago, when editorial page editors were strictly limiting their reader involvement.
Also, when you think back to the beginnings of civic journalism, when it was a very incendiary idea, one of its most controversial propositions was that newspapers should not -- should remain on the sidelines of public discourse. Civic journalism argued that newspapers should not remain on the sidelines, but should take a far more active role in convening conversations about key community issues and otherwise involve inspiring civic involvement. The purpose, again, was to make public life more vibrant and to inspire citizens to be more involved in it.
In the early 1990s, I moderated a panel between some proponents and some critics of civic journalism and a prominent editor from a Washington, D.C. newspaper was there. And he spoke for the majority of newspapers at that time when that the very idea that a newspaper should ever do more than be a detached observant -- observer -- was abhorrent to him, and certainly he didn't believe, and in fact he didn't even vote, to make sure that his conscience was clear. Well -- now the Washington Post continues to be a very first rate and fine newspaper. But I have to say that the times have changed in the newspaper industry and its opinion of civic journalism.
Today, the APME-Pew Poll found that 97 percent of editors now think a newspaper should have a broader community role besides just printing the news. More remarkably, about 40 percent of the non-civic journalism oriented papers, and 71 percent of the papers who embrace civic journalism believe newspapers should in fact help convene local discussions about key community issues.
Now, how significant is this change? Well, let me put it this way. The poll results show that the dual roles of community stewardship and serving as a catalyst for community conversation now outrank investigative reporting as one of the top two roles that newspapers should play in a community. And that, I submit, is a sea change from the Watergate era of journalism.
The expectations of what reporters do and how he or she will do their work also are changing, according to the poll. The traditional beat structure of newsrooms continues. The beat is obviously having to send someone in a suit out to a big edifice to talk to somebody in a suit about what's going on there. Or, more precisely, to have a young reporter -- usually a female -- talk on the phone to someone in the big edifice about what's going on.
The APME-Pew poll found that 61 percent of all reporting is still organized around traditional reporting, and another 10 percent of reporters' time is spent researching stories on the Internet. What I don't know, Jan, is whether we found out how many hours reporters spend looking for low-cost airfares or pictures from Madonna's concert tour. So, we'll have to go back for that.
But it wasn't these statistics on beat reporting that caught my eye. What was far more significant, in my view, were the indications that editors all over the country today are asking reporters to organize or frame their stories far differently than before. Today, more than half of all editors -- 51 percent -- say they have made a conscious effort to move their reporting away from story outlines that pose every issue as a conflict -- not as much "us verses them," much more of "we're in this together."
The poll also found that 47 percent of editors make a conscious effort to include all potential stakeholders in a story, not just the men in suits in those big edifices. And 78 percent of editors said their reporters are being instructed to develop new source lists away from the traditional nameplates of elected officials.
And, 52 percent of the editors now often make a deliberate effort to have reporters write their stories in ways that focus not just on problems, but on ways that the community might address their problems.
Now, to me, all of these indicators suggest a transformation that is underway in the newsroom. It is a shift away from telling stories as conflict -- a shift toward stories that include all potential stakeholders who could be impacted by an issue.
Now, one result of this shift in emphasis is that many newspapers -- in fact most newspapers are now covering significantly fewer routine government stories than a decade ago. The poll found that three out of four papers, in all circulation covers, are going to fewer local meetings, and the broadest reduction, in fact, came with newspapers over 100,000 circulation. Now, at first this seems somewhat puzzling, because isn't the watchdog role of journalism in fact most often focused on government? So does this mean that watchdog role is fading and newspapers are taking a backseat? I don't think so, because here's the interesting subtext of those numbers. While the coverage of government process has decreased, editors say the coverage of stories impacted by government has increased.
Thus, the poll found newspapers are doing more reporting on government supported public education, more reporting on transportation, more reporting on urban sprawl and development -- all of which have strong local and regional government ties.
Now, I find this shift very positive for the future of journalism, because in kind of an awkward, and halting, and tentative way, editors and other journalists are stepping forward from the sidelines and saying we have to find ways to engage our readers and communities again. Indeed, editors offered a stunning chorus of agreement that newspapering today is not about, quote, "just getting the facts." Only seven percent of the editors polled defined this as the most important role for their newspaper. By contrast, 32 percent described their most important role as news explainer; another 30 percent said the primary role was news breaker.
Now, this poll was taken, if you recall, right before the kind of bloody summer we've had with staff reductions and layoffs across the newspaper business. Still, even before the current round of reductions, the poll found that a majority of newspapers had either the same level of staffing or fewer staffers than they had a decade ago. At the same time, about 25 percent of papers actually were covering a larger geographic footprint -- so same or fewer staffs, many papers having to cover a larger footprint.
But, even against this backdrop, one of the things that I found most interesting was that editors were saying, "I have to restructure my staff and add some nontraditional newsroom positions designed to improve the newspaper's interactions with the community." Now, those positions had different names -- public editor, ombudsman, interactive editor, community coordinator -- but the intent of all those titles was to rebuild the link between the journalists and the larger community.
Let me step back and read again the headline I would write over this poll. In big 60 point type it would say "The Future of Newspapers Linked to Better Interaction and Connection With Readers." And in closing, I guess I would hope that that headline would capture some attention on Wall Street. In the July-August issue of American Journalism Review, newspaper analyst Laura Rich Fine talked about why Wall Street is going to continue to push newspapers toward higher profits. These pressures from the publicly owned companies are not going to end any time soon, and newspapers must continue, she said, to reach a return of 20 percent or more. And Fine had this to say about the whole idea of quality journalism. Quote, "Until you can show me that your subscribers are willing to pay more money because of the quality, I sort of feel like the average reader isn't that sensitive to the quality at a certain level." Now, all of the poll findings I reviewed with you today suggest to me that a different definition of quality needs to be found. I think this is a profoundly important point in this current bottom-line driven newspaper environment. The public may not be clamoring for better writing, better design, better photographs, but the public is, I feel, saying many times, many ways, that the quality of the relationship that they have with their local media matters. They have and they will pay for publications, television stations, and increasingly websites that match up with their own values and expectations for the media. Conversely, they will punish those media that seem to have severed or damaged the relationship they have with them. The punishment comes in the form of canceled subscriptions, lower readership, and general disdain.
Now, editors for a long time have made this quality argument, that quality journalism can be translated into better bottom line results. The results of the APME-Pew poll today suggests to me that a strong or perhaps even stronger link between quality journalism and the bottom line can be forged by strengthening the connections to and interactions with readers.
So, at some future date, I think we're going to look back on this day as kind of the beginning of a new era. I think we might call it the era of interactive journalism. It is the kind of journalism where the reporters and editors are not standing on the sidelines, detached and observing society, holding the keys to the newsroom. Instead, it is a kind of journalism where reporters and editors are interacting with readers and communities all around the country, inviting them inside to play a role in the work of journalists and explaining the valuable position that journalism plays in civic life.
There's a lot of work to be done here. There's a lot of work to be done -- that must be done against the bottom-line realities. There have to be some creative environments set for some continued experimentation can occur. And I hope that you will give, in that vein, some consideration to Jan's idea for an experimental lab called "J-Lab" which -- where some of these ideas can take root.
Now, journalists will never be universally loved nor trusted -- nor should they be. Much of what journalism is about will continue to be that necessary role of shining a light under a dark rock where the oppressors and charlatans would rather not be exposed. But we no longer can think of journalism simply within the context of the Watergate generation. We must clearly and resolutely recognize that we have entered the interactive generation.
And no where is this more obvious than when we look at the next generation of newspaper readers. They are those young people born since 1977, known as generation Y. They are the future, not only of journalism, but of all our democratic institutions. Those young people grew up with cell phones, e-mail, instant messaging. They want a voice. They want to be heard. They want to utilize their media and their sense of global connection. In short, they want their world and their journalism to be interactive.
Thank you. (Applause.)
TERENCE SMITH, Media Correspondent and Senior Producer, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: Thank you, Chris. That's very interesting. I'm Terry Smith, and my role here as -- to sort of give a few comments to what Chris has said, maybe play the devil's advocate a little bit, ask him a couple of questions as to how these things apply, and then principally open it up to all of you and the questions that you've been delivering to Dick here. And so I'll get -- I'll get to it right away.
It seems to me that this study -- I mean, it reminds me of that old quote that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of hanging. What you have here are newspaper editors all around this country recognizing that their trend lines that they're dealing with are all flat or going down. John Morton, the respected newspaper analyst, reports that circulation, newspaper circulation has fallen generally from one-half to one percent every year now for 10 years. This is not a transitory thing. This is, after all, through a boom period and now perhaps into something that looks very much like a bust. So, this is a 10-year pattern, and I would extend it to television and other media as well.
The simple fact is the consumption of news by Americans through mainstream means particularly is flat or declining. You can discuss the reasons for that -- the fragmentation of news sources, the fragmentation of audiences, the end of the Cold War, the less urgent quality of news -- there are many reasons that might play into it. But it almost doesn't matter. It's a reality. And it seems to me, Chris, that what these editors are doing is recognizing that reality and the world around, and it has focused their mind in a way -- and opened it -- in a way that it hadn't before. After all, all these conclusions suggest that the editors recognize that they had become out of touch and in rather poor communication with their audience and with their readers and that something had to be done. They know something has to be done.
This -- I am old enough to remember a period growing up in and around New York when there were eight daily newspapers and in great competition with one another. And the largest of them by far was the one that had the best connection to its readers, best understood its audience, and that was the New York Daily News, which sold 2.2 million copies every day, and over four million on Sunday. They understood their audience. And they knew who it was and what they cared about, and in great measure their reporters, photographers and editors were drawn from the population. So, they were successful because they understood that
And I think what you're saying here in this -- in this report is that editors now recognize that they too must understand their audience better. What better way than through some interactive communication with them, and that probably requires new means. But it certainly shows, this survey, that those editors who tried this approach liked it, felt they got some reward.
So, maybe question number one to you, Chris, is what is the -- what is the reward? How do you measure the reward? What is the bottom line here for newspapers? Is it strictly circulation? The readers? Is it the flow of ideas? A sense of intercommunication? What is it? And secondly, what do reporter and editors do with the interactive information? When you mention -- or the poll does anyway -- that a great majority now run either the telephone number or certainly the e-mail address of reporters right at the bottom of stories, very often, that allow people to get right back to the actual authors, and indirectly the editors. What, tell us from your own experience, what do they actually do with this material? And has it lead, in your case, or in cases that you know of, to either new reporting, new subjects -- what has it come to? What's been the practical result?
And a related question. What do -- what gets lost? If this becomes an occupation -- a preoccupation of editors, and their staff, you mention that there's less reporting of routine government meetings -- well, some of those government meetings are quite important. If it's your land that's before the zoning board, you care a great deal about the outcome of that, or the one down -- your neighbor down the road that might impact on you.
So, that's -- I'll mention one or two others, and then ask you to respond. What gets lost -- that question arises in my mind -- if anything? Does it stifle initiative on the part of the editors and the reporters? Do they give up in any way the franchise that they traditionally have had, which is to know their community and to analyze what its problems are -- does it in any way stifle that or suppress independent, investigative reporting? Because if it did, that would be a problem, and an allocation of resources that I think you might -- you might credit. So, what's the practical effect of this sea change that you're talking about.
One other comment is that you talked about civic journalism and this now 10-year debate about it. It seems to me that it has always depended on the size and role of the news organization. The New York Times has been opposed to the concept -- the paper that I worked for for 20 years -- and I understand that. They feel that they speak to a national and international audience. And while they do have the New York report and they cover New York City, they have a larger role and they feel that they've got to exercise that responsibility. It is the papers, the smaller papers, as you suggested -- say between, circulations between 20,000 and 100,000 that might find this more relevant to their -- to their life.
And finally, there's an aspect of this that applies as well to television, especially local television, which is the source that two- thirds of Americans cite as their primary source of news. So, we all have our opinions about local television. And in many cases, it's dreadful. In many cases, it -- that old saying -- if it bleeds, it leads -- really does define the content of particularly an 11:00 p.m. broadcast in this area.
But local television makes a great show of being in touch with the community. It's not just Barbara Walters saying at the end of "20/20," "We're in touch, so you be in touch, too," which I always found a little saccharine myself. But much of that same approach is employed by local television in a sort of boosterish, self-promoting way in which they point out that their anchors or news readers are participating in charitable events or community events.
I think this is almost devoid of content and that there's really very little substantive interaction between local television outlets and their audience. It's much more for show. They could benefit from some of these same principles and they could apply some of these same principles. In fact, they're much better set up to do it because of their means and, of course, the opportunity to use broadcast through it.
So that would be my comment on television's aspect of this. And tell me, Chris, what are the practical implications of this?
CHRIS PECK: Well, Terry, you asked me six questions here, so I'm going to have to zoom through them here. I'm going to pick and choose a little bit.
Let me go back to the first point you made, though, the practical implications. I think, really, I want to go back to the thing that I mentioned about the future of newspaper readership being this Gen Y. And I want to talk a little bit about that, because television, newspapers, all media, what we have to say is where is the audience going to come from? We know where our audience is going to come from. They were born since 1977. They're reaching adulthood right now.
That particular generation, a lot of research has shown, is very amenable to the idea of newspapers. They like the idea that the newspaper gathers up local information and puts the world in context. They don't know much about newspapers. That generation is very, very much interactive in the way we talked about.
If you think about your own kids and you see them, they're sitting at the computer talking on their cell phone and wearing their pager because they want to have an interaction. And that characteristic of that generation is a very important thing for readership. So the very practical aspect of this is if you want to reach those people, an audience where newspaper readership isn't particularly high, you need to rethink the model that you're using. Civic journalism and the tools of civic journalism are designed to help with those interactions.
You talk about what you do with this information. I think the information that you gather from the tools of civic journalism adds tremendously to the depth and breadth of the reporting that can be done in a local market. And I will give the New York Times an exception in the sense that they are a national newspaper that skims a very elite audience across the very top of the socioeconomic spectrum. They know their audience. It's rich people who want to be involved in the world.
But the fact of the matter is, most newspapers don't exist in New York. Of the 1425 daily newspapers left in the country, most of them are somewhere else. Let me just bring it home a little more closely here. There are cities in this country where the majority population is black -- in DC, in Detroit, other newspapers. That's for the people who live in Washington DC. That is the population here. I'm not knocking the Washington Post here, but I might say, is that newspaper connected with the geographic community that actually lives in Washington DC?
Let me talk a little bit here about kind of whether this stifles initiative, this whole idea. There is a phrase that what gets reported in the newspaper is what the editor sees driving on his way to work. That's wrong. That's not the way it should be. It occurs, but it's not the way it should be.
The practical effects of actually having these connections with the newspaper through the tools of civic journalism is a tremendous, tremendous garden of new story ideas, new insights into the community that are much greater and deeper. If you go back and look at the winners of the Batten awards, which are kind of the Pulitzers for civic journalism that Janet and others know about, the Batten award winners for the last few years, there's nothing about that work that's puffery; there's nothing about that work that suggests that it's superficial.
This year's winner, that talked about West Virginia after coal, was built around the basis of a dozen or more community outreaches that the newspaper and a local television station worked on in partnership to get an understanding of what was going on in that state after coal. And I think that's what you discover, that the editor can't be all-knowing. The Census tells us how different the world is. There's no editor in the world who can be that omniscient. And you need to have that outreach all the time.
As far as television goes, I agree with you on that. I think there's a tremendous opportunity for television to use the tool of civic journalism so that they can move beyond this pretty face and actually get into a lot of in-depth coverage. It's a tremendous vehicle. And, again, a lot of the work that the Pew Center has done is encouraged partnerships between newspapers and television to work on projects together in local communities.
So maybe we ought to stop there and talk about some of the questions.
RICHARD RYAN: We have a number of questions here indeed. Mr. Peck, you talked about the defection of newspapers; people's feeling toward newspapers is gone and no longer exists. Is that because there are fewer and fewer family-owned newspapers than there used to be and more and more the newspapers owned by giant corporations, such as Gannett or Knight-Ridder? And secondly, you are part of a family that owns a newspaper.
Has your newspaper changed to meet the same criteria you're talking about here today?
CHRIS PECK: I wouldn't lay the growing disaffection at the feet of publicly-owned newspapers. I think that the publicly-owned newspapers and privately-owned newspapers got caught up in this particular model of journalism that I was talking about. I don't think it was a matter of public ownership. And I think that what did happen, however, is the intense bottom-line pressure on newspapers to continue growing profits has focused a lot of creative energy and talent on that issue: "Well, how do we make the newspaper more profitable?" which I understand. That's a reality.
What I would suggest, though, is that what needs to happen in the publicly-traded companies is realize this idea of the relationship to the audience and actually having the audience probably may have as great an impact or greater impact on their bottom line than anything else that they do. So in that sense, I think the publicly-traded companies probably need to shift over to see that this relationship is more important.
As far as my own family newspaper, I do work at a family-owned newspaper in Spokane. The Coles (sp) family has owned the paper there for 100 years, and I grew up in a family newspaper in Wyoming, where my father published it for 50 years.
The issue there is that there is something about having the ownership of the paper in the town where it is located that changes the dynamic a little bit, because if the publisher is right there and the publisher lives with what you see in print and runs into people that he knows and he's known his whole life and his family has known its whole life, it is harder to simply make a straight business argument. There are things that you need to do because you are the publisher and you have a standing in the community that's based on that role.
Beyond that, I think that what -- just the other point I'd make is that many, many newspapers, quite frankly, think their franchise really is local news. And I don't think that's a public or private piece. I think the local newspaper, though, would probably tend to not put Chandra Levy out on page one, which we have never done in Spokane; we may eventually, but we have not done yet. I think that our franchise is really local news.
TERENCE SMITH: Dick, let me add something to that. I would echo that thought but add this. I think there is a homogenization of newspapers and news in this country going on when they are acquired in large number by chains, which centralize their reporting in Washington and other places abroad. And I think that is a problem. And the reduction in staff-produced content in newspapers is another problem that probably turns people off.
But without question, Chris, the largest impact is the tremendous drive for profits. We've had quite a controversy in recent months over the Knight-Ridder chain, the second-largest chain in the country, that has a chief executive who is driving -- and makes no bones about it -- driving to produce a 20 to 22 percent profit every year on his newspapers in that chain.
There are many businesses in this country that get along with a far smaller profit margin than that. And that's behind all the cuts and, as you called it, the bloody summer in the newspaper industry. So I think there's some truth to that, and ownership is a factor here, and it's all going in one direction.
There's certainly been speculation that at some point, Gannett or another very large and powerful organization might make a bid for Knight-Ridder and try to acquire, if not the chain, many of its most important properties. Well, what's happened as a result of the bloody summer? The stock price of the Knight-Ridder corporation reached a 52-year high last week. There's nothing Wall Street loves like staff cuts. And it's now selling at $62 a share and becoming a very lucrative prospect for its current owners.
RICHARD RYAN: I suspect the stock price of Knight-Ridder is just going to go up. You talk about the two-way communications between the readers and the newspapers. People send in their response. Is this becoming more like talk radio in the sense that the readers want to just voice their criticism rather than offer constructive advice? And secondly, a questioner would like to know what happens with this information that a reader would send in? Is that used? Is it printed, or is it used by the newspaper or sold by the paper for mailing lists? (Laughter.)
CHRIS PECK: Not sold by the paper for mailing lists. There's an aspect, if you have any communication when you talk about the new media, that involves venting. I mean, if you have been flamed by someone on e-mail, you know the value of writing it and then letting it sit there for a minute before you hit the send button.
But I do think that the -- I think what you're really getting at, though, is the confusion that a lot of the competing entertainment media have caused for true journalism. You know, what happens when most talk radio is not journalism, it's entertainment? That's its purpose. It's built around the idea of comments coming in that are provocative and flame-throwing.
So it is true that some of this interaction you get has a degree of that with it. But let me give you an example that kind of leads into your second point. How would you use this information? When newspapers using civic journalism tools make the smallest attempt to channel the conversation -- I'll give you an example of something that we've tried; we want to get some comment, for example, on a land-use issue in Spokane. We have a data base of 600 to 800 e-mail addresses where we've had people who have some -- have been in contact with us about something related to land use. We send them a mass e-mail with a question, saying, "There's something happening. There's going to be a land-use decision or hearing coming up. Do you have any thoughts on that decision?"
Those comments are very thoughtful. They aren't driven by the flame-throwers. And that's an example of where those comments, quite frankly, provide sources. They provide comments for stories, quotes. They provide new issues that we hadn't even thought of, that the reporter may have completely missed the issue because he'd only talked to the guy down in the planning office. It's very valuable and deepening and widening the reporter's understanding of an issue and getting a good list of comments and sources.
TERENCE SMITH: Dick, I can add, a television equivalent of that is at the News Hour with Jim Lehrer. When we run the Web site two or three times during the course of the broadcast on the screen, we receive hundreds of e-mails every day in immediate, sometimes vitriolic response to what we have put on the air. Most of it is very interesting and constructive, and many suggest things, segments, subjects we have overlooked. It may be couched in the form of complaint, but when you get 75 or 100 of them, you begin to realize, after a particular segment, that perhaps you overlooked something.
I'll give you an example. Last week a segment on the protests -- or let me say a segment on the G-8 summit in Genoa, which, of course, was marked by protests, including, for the first time, the death of one of the protesters, dealt largely with the subjects being discussed inside the hall, what President Bush and the other leaders were trying to deal with; a good substantive approach, but our viewers came back in by the score saying, "You dismissed and didn't give time to the content of those protests and what it is they're protesting and whether they know what they're protesting about, and you missed a bet." That's the sort of -- that to me is constructive interactivity.
RICHARD RYAN: Mr. Peck, if you could add to this question briefly, because we are nearing the end of the time, but this question notes that the coverage of international news in local newspapers has plummeted over the last decade because, as written here, of a misguided belief that people don't really care what happens beyond their backyards. Would you comment on that?
CHRIS PECK: The misguided belief is that people care about something in the far-flung part of the world in a detached way that is out of context with their own lives. The really interesting thing about that question is that there's a tremendous opportunity for newspapers to make the connection between what's happening in a local community and what's happening in a far-flung place. And, in fact, I think that is the future of international news reporting and newspapers.
As an example, where I live, there's a lot of wheat grown. And 90 percent of the wheat that's grown in Washington State is exported, and most of that export goes to Third World countries like Pakistan, like Iran and Iraq. When you talk about events in Iran and Iraq, one of the things we have done as part of our civic journalism outreach, we run a page in the paper called "Connections," and every story on that page draws a connection between a national or international event and our local market. So when we run a story about Pakistan, we say, "This is important to you, Spokane, Washington, because 80 percent of the wheat we export goes to Pakistan." If you can make that connection, I think the chances are very good that people will continue to read those international stories.
RICHARD RYAN: Very good. Before asking the last question, I have a little bit of business I want to do up here. Number one is to present each of you a certificate of appreciation for your appearance here at the National Press Club, and the famous National Press Club coffee mugs that I hope that you will place on your desk, and do with them whatever you will. (Laughter.)
And the last question I'd like to ask both of you, and briefly, is that there are now 512 newspapers in the country with circulations of 20,000 or more. How many do you think there will be in the year 2025?
CHRIS PECK: Over 500. And I think it's very possible that there will be a whole brand of new newspapers that are going to grow up with some of these techniques that we've talked about today.
RICHARD RYAN: Terry?
TERENCE SMITH: I have no idea as to the actual number, but newspapers in this form, and I will bet you in completely new and innovative forms, will be around at least that long.
RICHARD RYAN: Very good. (Applause.) I want to thank Chris and Terry for being here today and sharing this very important information with us. Copies of the survey, this Journalism Interactive, are available outside the room right here, and you can pick them up as you leave.
I'd like to thank all of you for coming today and those of you who are watching on C-SPAN or listening to the broadcast on National Public Radio. And I'd also like to thank National Press Club staff members Melinda Cooke, Pat Nelson, Jo Ann Booze, Melanie Abdow Dermott and Howard Rothman for organizing today's luncheon. And thanks to the NPC library for their research. Thank you all. (Applause.)
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