News Insiders Discuss Future of Journalism

On the evening of October 22nd, some of the most prominent names in the news industry gathered in Cubberley Auditorium to discuss “New Times: The Future of Journalism.” The members of the four-person panel, which was hosted by the Department of Communication, presented their perspectives on the current state of the news industry and how their company was adapting and formulating strategies meant to capitalize on an increasingly technology-centric news world.

Joel Brinkley, syndicated columnist and member of the Stanford Department of Communication, moderated the panel. The speakers were Paul Steiger of ProPublica, Philip Balboni of GlobalPost, Martin Nisenholtz of The New York Times Digital Operations, and Alberto Ibarguen of the Knight Foundation. ProPublica and GlobalPost are recently-founded, purely online news organizations trying to take advantage of the public’s growing desire for fast and free news on the Internet.

ProPublica is structured as a non-profit news organization rather than the more traditional business format, and has roughly 30 correspondents across the nation. According to Steiger, what is particularly different about ProPublica is its ability to gain access to, and collaborate with, major news outlets. Steiger, a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, described a system of collaboration that is flexible in that the organization can fill whatever role the major news outlets seek: reporting exclusives, full reporting, partial reporting, or editing. In exchange for the legwork, ProPublica gains contacts, publicity, and prominent positioning of its stories.

Furthermore, ProPublica emphasizes that it is “non-partisan.” To support this, Steiger said, “We have stuff that cuts both ways,” and pointed to conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh’s recent citation of a ProPublica story as evidence of the organization’s less-than-left-leaning tilt. Steiger explained that he actively works to prevent ProPublica from being accused of liberal bias, as many news outlets are today.

GlobalPost has adopted a different strategy with regard to its organizational model. Unique for the industry, the organization contracts out correspondents as part-time workers only, with consistent monthly salaries. To raise revenue, GlobalPost hosts advertising, syndicates its stories to other outlets, and charges an annual fee for members who want access to special content. At one point during the event, in a move that came across as somewhat overzealous, Balboni began promoting the premium membership to audience members in salesman-like fashion. However, over the course of the night, Balboni primarily emphasized the importance of content in the new era of journalism.

Martin Nisenholtz deviated from the theme of Internet-centered publications with his presentation on The New York Times’s current initiative to “marry” its print and online operations and turn their journalists into “multi-platform journalists.” For many people, as America’s largest newspaper, The Times represents the entire print news industry. And as it has moved toward cutting operating costs by cutting sections, the nation has watched with trepidation as smaller local papers continue to fall by the wayside. Meanwhile, more and more people are turning to the Internet for the news, but revenues from Internet advertising have thus far been unable to match print earnings. This is where The Times sees its potential—uniting the print and digital operations in a way in which the two aid one another in attracting traffic.

Alberto Ibarguen of the Knight Foundation rounded out the presentation portion of the panel by summing up the general feeling of uncertainty surrounding this new era of journalism. In one example, he referenced the collaborations that smaller online news outlets such as ProPublica and GlobalPost have been undertaking with traditional news outlets like The New York Times. “We don’t know in journalism what the meaning of this collaboration is,” he said. In the past, these collaborations “simply wouldn’t have happened.”

Overall, the panel made it clear that journalism is an industry characterized by a need for innovation, risk-taking, and quick adaptation. Those news organizations that can deliver the news and stay in business at a time when the industry is hemorrhaging capital like never before are the ones that will drive successfully through this era and into the next.

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