Journalism vets forecast changes in media conditions
September 30, 2007 3:19 PM
Pessimism around the current state of media affairs, mixed with hope and excitement about the future of journalism on the Web permeated the atmosphere at the Commonwealth Club of California last Thursday evening.
Major points of discussion include losses caused by the Internet and lackluster coverage in today's traditional news organizations leading to a loss of credibility.
"Journalists, in a sense, are being eliminated," said Robert Rosenthal, a former managing editor of the San Francisco Chronicle.
"In the Bay Area, there are probably 400 or 500 fewer journalists right now than there were five or six years ago," said Rosenthal , who estimates a total 1000 to 1200 journalists being in the area at the start of the 2000s.
Concerned with the trend of increased amount of entertainment programming on television news, former KTVU Channel 2 anchor Leslie Griffith spoke about the problems in the television news industry.
She cited the lack of resources allocated for investigative reporting by traditional news outlets, including her former employer, as one of the fundamental problems with television news.
“We were not hiring investigative reporters or doing more investigative reports,” said Griffith, who left KTVU in 2006. “We were hiring more and more entertainment reporters, which is the trend nationwide.”
Steven Wright, vice president and editorial page editor for the San Jose Mercury News, said that as a result of losing ad money to internet advertisers the paper was forced to reduce its staff.
“It’s advertising that pays for the journalists, that is then being shifted and is migrating, in huge amounts, onto the internet,” Wright said. “Newspapers are struggling with how do deal with that, especially the impact on revenue that has been taken away from our pages.”
The majority of Internet dollars are being made by Google, Microsoft and companies other than those who gather and report news.
“In 1998 and 1999 our classified advertising… was about a 120 million dollar business for the Mercury News,” Wright said. “This past couple of years it’s been about a 14 million dollar business.”
This revenue loss resulted in the paper’s staff going from 400 in 2000 to 200 today, according to Wright.
Despite the problems the Internet has caused for news organizations, all of the panelists expressed hope in the great potential of using it as a news medium.
“I think it’s a great time to be in the media,” said Kevin Keeshan, news director at KGO television. “I love the fact that the Internet is here. It’s a great tool and I think it’s something that we could use a lot more effectively in the future.”
“It’s not like we’re going away tomorrow, but we need to figure out how to make our internet sites also profitable…It’s going to take a while for our internet revenue to…catch up and help protect our core product, the newspaper,” Wright said.
Keeshan said that while the format for news was changing, the need for professionally created news content was not diminishing.
“It’s a distribution platform for people who don’t watch TV,” he said. “People don’t watch TV but they do consume news and I still think that the journalist, as authenticator and learned authority who investigates…and verifies facts, is still the gold standard. It’s not going to be replaced by the masses…by viewer posts on blogs.”
Rosenthal addressed the concern that even though major online news aggregators attract large readership, there is a danger that as news companies keep loosing money and cutting staff, the amount and quality of online news content may suffer.
“People think Google is news, Yahoo is news. Well, they’re not,” Rosenthal said. “They get their information for the most part from newspapers still. And the people who own and run those places at some point are going to have to figure out what’s their content going to be.”
Drumond’s advice to journalism students or others who are considering journalism, as a future career was to "think about law school." But other panelists were not as pessimistic.
Allie Schratz contributed to this story
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