Media execs debate future of news

Though the event was billed as “Journalism in Crisis,” the four media executives who appeared at Monday night’s taping of the GW-sponsored Kalb Report program said they see plenty of opportunities for their organizations.

The presidents of the Associated Press, National Public Radio, CNN and the Knight Foundation spoke with host Marvin Kalb at the National Press Club at the show’s final installment of the season. As newsrooms across the country face massive layoffs and file for bankruptcy, the panelists agreed that revenue – not audience – problems are largely the source of the much-touted “journalism crisis.”

“The market for news is growing,” said Tom Curley, president and CEO of the Associated Press. He added that the traditional business model for print journalism is gone.

Curley said that news organizations need more revenue from subscribers to stay in business, but the “traditional” news outlets are behind the curve in raising their profits.

Jon Klein, president of CNN, said that his network has seen double-digit profit growth for the last five years. Klein attributed this to CNN’s multiple revenue streams, and emphasized their online media content. When the Internet boom took off in the ’90s, it should have “killed” the cable news network, Klein said.

“Now we’re the top news site,” he continued, citing the importance of brand-name recognition.

He added that this was particularly key to luring young consumers, who he said are more likely to trust a news name that they have grown up with.

The panelists also touched on the importance of expanding into new media and the Internet.

“You have to reach the younger generation in the way they’re accessing media today,” said NPR’s Vivian Schiller. NPR’s listening audience tends to be in their upper 40s, but their podcast subscribers are in their lower 30s, she said.

After Klein mentioned CNN’s forthcoming attempt to launch its own AP-style CNN Wire service later this year, Kalb asked Curley what he thought about the potential competition.

“We’ve had many prospective competitors,” he said. “We publish 1,000 byline stories a day and it would be tough to replicate that.”

Although each panelist said their own business is strong, no one disputed that the traditional newspaper is a struggling entity in the journalism industry.

“We need to let go of the nostalgia of newspapers,” Schiller said.

Curley, however, does not think newspapers will disappear entirely.

“Print will stay around, even if only as free, issue-oriented newspapers,” he said.

Alberto Ibargüen, president of the Knight Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes journalism, admitted to having a soft spot for newspapers.

“I fund everything in new media, but my heart belongs in newspaper,” he said.

Kalb told the panel he had invited the top leaders of The Washington Post and The New York Times, but all declined.

Schiller said she fears for the absence of investigative reporting, traditionally a function of newspaper reporters. Still, she has confidence in the audience to discern quality journalism.

“I have no problem with TMZ, with Wikipedia,” she said. “There’s not ‘bad content,’ the only bad content is pretending to be something else.”

Ibargüen said audiences will continue to demand traditional news values, regardless of the medium.

“We need to figure out how to deliver values, rather than bemoan that print is leaving us,” he said.

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