“The Incredible Shrinking Newsroom: How can fewer reporters meet increasing demands for coverage?”
Prepared remarks for the 2009 Ruhl Lecture
by Martin Baron, editor, The Boston Gobe
University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication
April 2, 2009
Thank you very much for inviting me here today. This lecture was endowed in the name of a journalist who brought integrity and a strong sense of mission to our profession. So it is a special honor to be with all of you.
The subject you have assigned me – the shrinking newsroom – is not one I would choose for myself. But I understand your interest. For all of us in newsrooms and for all those who aspire to careers in journalism, the topic is unavoidable. For me, it is far too timely: On Monday at the Boston Globe, we completed the latest job reductions, cutting our staff by the equivalent of 50 full-time positions and giving us a newsroom with about 100 fewer people than we had at the beginning of last year.
I’ll try to offer some perspective on how decisions are made as our organizations become smaller, what direction we are now taking, our priorities as we are forced to be more disciplined in setting them, and – because this is not all bad news – the opportunities for journalists of the future.
To start, let me take you back to January 23, 2007.
We at the Boston Globe were undergoing yet another round of cutbacks, what has become an annual post-New Year’s ritual at our organization, as it has at so many others.
I had called into my office our foreign editor and our assistant foreign editor. Our four foreign correspondents were on the line for a conference call. One was in Berlin, a longtime foreign correspondent who had arrived in that city for his new assignment less than a year earlier. Two correspondents -- husband and wife -- were in Jerusalem; they had moved there after spending 18 months or so in Iraq – going in after the invasion and establishing our bureau there, eventually falling in love during their stay. The fourth person on the line was in Bogota, Colombia, a reporter who had previously covered the Far East for many years and who had recently emerged from a Nieman Fellowship to return to her professional love, foreign correspondence.
To all of them, I broke this news: We were reducing staff. All of our foreign bureaus would close. Overseas coverage would end. If they did not take a buyout, they would need to return to Boston in a matter of months. We would discuss possible new assignments and hope for a good match.
Foreign coverage had been a point of special pride in our newsroom, and a source of distinction. We had just covered two wars – first, Afghanistan, and then Iraq, where one of our most passionate and talented correspondents, Elizabeth Neuffer, met her death doing the work that was her lifelong passion.
Among the correspondents, the anguish over shuttering our bureaus was most severe, of course. Only one returned to work for us in Boston, and he left in a later buyout. For the staff as a whole, closing the foreign bureaus became a signal of diminished ambitions.
The staff’s questions were natural and understandable. One question stood out above all others: Surely, in the years after 9/11, foreign coverage was more important than ever. How could we close these bureaus now?
So, why did we?
The calculus at the Globe was this: If we did not close our foreign bureaus, we would have had to find savings elsewhere, most notably in our local coverage. About a dozen positions in the newsroom would need to be eliminated. And while we still maintained a Washington bureau, what we had left was mostly local coverage.
We would not – I certainly was unwilling – to erode our local coverage to maintain foreign bureaus. Coverage of Greater Boston – everything about it, from the courts to the arts, schools to sports and business – was central to our mission. Above all else, it is our mission.
And no matter the symbolic importance of foreign coverage – no matter the bad press that ending it would earn us, or the deflating effect on staff morale, or even the very good public-policy and moral arguments for us to maintain it – it could not prevail at the expense of local coverage. Local coverage is at the top of the reasons that people come to us. We do more of it, and are better at it in Boston, than anyone else.
Today, that decision over foreign bureaus looks easy. The decisions we are making today, as money becomes more painfully tight, are harder. They cut closer to the bone, threatening to remove muscle. They call for an especially careful assessment of what our readers want from us and what we expect from ourselves.
They force us to assess which resources we should devote to the newspaper when so many readers and advertisers are migrating to the web -- and which resources we should devote to digital when revenues still come disproportionately from print. This is an impossible choice, and ultimately we must view all resources as serving both digital and print.
Yet that still leaves us with the great unknown: We do not know, long-term or really even short-term, what our actual financial resources will be.
All the nipping and tucking, and shaving and trimming, and chopping and full-scale amputation raises perhaps the most important question: Will news organizations -- the Globe and many others -- be able to adequately cover their communities when the financial pressures are so severe and so unrelenting?
I believe we can. But that is a belief and maybe just a hope. It is not a prediction -- and well short of a promise. And it will require us to get our costs in line with the reality of diminished revenue and to be more creative at making money, both in print and online. It requires us to move quickly because the pace of economic decline is breathtakingly rapid, entirely unforgiving of timidity, delay, and nostalgia for old ways or attachment to old work rules.
Admittedly, sadly, good people get hurt in this wrenching adjustment.
Something else is required, too, in this struggle. Owners and top executives, maybe even some editors, must reacquaint themselves with the value of journalism. Journalism is not stenography, and the work journalists do is not an everyday commodity, easily and readily delivered by anyone on the street. Those who regard it as such are blind to the contributions of the profession that is the underpinning of their business. Inevitably, they will awaken to a public that realizes their newspapers and websites have nothing worthwhile to offer.
I am fortunate to work at a company that knows the value of high- quality journalism.
Let me just outline the challenge in the newsroom:
When I started in journalism 33 years ago – and really up until a decade ago or so – some of us went into newspapers because we preferred it over other options in journalism. We did not want to work for a wire service, turning out one quick story after another. We did not wish to work for a TV station, seeing it as an unsuitable venue for people who admired the craft of writing and were animated by the possibilities of rigorous, thorough reporting. For much the same reasons, we did not want to work for radio. At most, newspapers required stories for an afternoon and morning paper, allowing time for sufficient research and for stories that stood out for their originality, context, and writing sparkle.
Today, our staff produces for the web, turning out news updates throughout the day, as a wire service does. We are taking and editing audio, as a radio station would. And like a television crew, we are shooting and editing video – of breaking news stories at one level, and documentary-quality video at another. We are blogging, engaging readers directly. And we motivate our readers to make their own contributions to our site with photos, comments, participation in chats and message boards, wikis, and even stories of their own. Finally, for the next morning, we must publish a newspaper that is qualitatively different from what we did throughout the day on our website.
We are doing all this with sharply reduced newsroom staffs. And we must keep doing it – at an even faster pace -- as we confront further precipitous declines in revenue.
This is not easy.
Keep in mind the breadth of what we do: We cover crime and the police, state and federal prosecutors, state and federal courts, the environment, higher education, K-12 education, state government, city government, social services, transportation, immigration, development, and religion. We cover professional, college, and high school sports. We cover business, from high finance to small enterprises, and we cover the arts of every sort. In Boston, we cover a sprawling medical and scientific community of international acclaim. We cover individual towns – there are more than 200 of them in our core circulation area. We offer, and solicit, well-considered and well-crafted opinion. We publish stories of perspective and depth – analyses, explanatory journalism, forceful narratives of human drama.
Like all communities, ours has its powerful interests – public officials, major businesses, major institutions and power brokers of every type. We hold them accountable with investigations, some that require months and a small fortune to execute.
We do all of these things every weekday, every Saturday and Sunday and – with the web – from early morning to very late at night.
At a time when the challenges are greater than ever, expectations of the press are higher -- and confidence in the press is at a humiliating low.
Sixty percent of Americans disagree with the statement that the press tries to report news without bias. More than half say we’re out of touch with mainstream Americans.
Today’s conditions suggest the pressures will not lessen. At major metropolitan newspapers around the country, advertising revenue is declining at a breathtaking pace. As you well know, some newspapers have closed. Others are threatened with closure. A good number are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Meantime, readers, with ready access to the web, are now able to see plainly which stories are not carried in their local papers. Or to see how those stories are covered differently -- maybe better -- elsewhere. They have more tools with which to judge us, and they judge us harshly.
Cutbacks of the past have left emaciated news organizations in many cities. Readers notice.
A disturbing study released last month by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press showed that fewer than half of Americans say that losing their local newspaper would hurt civic life in their community a lot. Only 33% said they would miss reading their local paper a lot if it were not available.
Why do people react to the prospect of our possible demise with such indifference? Twenty-nine percent say there are plenty of other sources of information -- television, radio, the Internet -- almost certainly without realizing how heavily those media outlets depend on the original reporting of newspapers. But one out of five cite another reason: The quality of their local newspaper, they say, is poor. So what is there to miss?
At the Globe, we have not escaped the knife. Nor have we escaped the disappointment of some readers with our decisions to take some things away.
But economic realities are forcing us to make decisions that were unimaginable only a few years ago. We are drawn into a reinvention that acknowledges the reality of diminished budgets and a technology that gives people access to almost unlimited information – wherever they are, and for free.
We have said bluntly that we must rethink our newspaper and even our online presence. The staff understands that, and, with rare exception, embraces it.
Our view is that what we do in print, the newspaper, is increasingly aimed at our core readers – people who have been with us for a long while, people who – notwithstanding the bounty of digital options available – want an actual newspaper in the morning. They want a paper with vigorous coverage. Highest among their priorities is local coverage, but they also want a paper that keeps them well-informed about what is happening around the nation and the world. In a sports-crazed town like Boston, they value lively sports coverage, of course, but they also value rich coverage of the arts and energetic coverage of business. Our core readers want local, but they are not parochial. They understand Boston’s place in the world. They also want strong writing.
That is why, unlike other newspapers, we have maintained a Washington bureau when so many others – foolishly, in my opinion – have shut theirs. University campuses in the Boston area – Harvard, MIT, Tufts, Boston University, and more –are home to many who used to run the government, or hope to in the future, or at the very least aim to influence it in a major way. New England plays an outsized role in national politics and policy.
One need only reflect on presidential campaigns over the years to appreciate what I mean. And one need only look at those who now populate key policy posts in Washington today. Many left Boston and Cambridge since January to join the Obama administration. Our senators and congressmen hold key leadership posts.
Local connections aside, rarely has the impact of Washington on the lives of ordinary citizens been more evident. Rarely has the public’s interest in politics and policy been so intense.
At the Globe, we also have maintained our investigative strength. Our investigative team known as Spotlight remains intact, having just completed a yearlong inquiry into how the largest hospital organization in Massachusetts flexes its market muscle. Individual departments – Metro, Business, Sports, even Arts – routinely deploy beat reporters on investigations, assignments that may take them from their typical duties for a few days, a few weeks, or much longer. The Speaker of the House in Massachusetts recently resigned after his ties to lobbyists came under withering scrutiny from a series of Globe investigative reports.
In the last two years, we have partnered successfully with Northeastern University classes on investigative journalism led by our former Spotlight investigations chief Walter Robinson. The result: 11 front-page stories -- very good ones, with impact. We have just entered into a similar partnership with Boston University.
Readers want journalism that holds people to account. They blame the press for not applying greater scrutiny to the Bush administration as it justified a war in Iraq. They blame us for failing to expose abuses in the financial system that brought us to the brink today. If we are not digging hard, readers believe, we are not doing our job – and they are right.
Our overall local news staff covering the Boston core has remained at a healthy size, with close to the same number of reporters and editors as before. We are using our reporters and editors smartly. The people of Boston and Massachusetts see themselves in our pages. Our paper reflects the personality of the region. And it sets the news agenda.
Outside of core Boston, suburban coverage remains a challenge, as is the case at so many newspapers. Zoned suburban editions that once were seen as the future of local coverage have been scaled back in many metropolitan areas across the country, including ours.
Many of our readers live outside the central zone, and they want us to report on their towns, schools, police, environment, and local personalities. But, as I mentioned before, there are more than 200 towns in our circulation area, and the cost to provide town-by-town coverage through conventional means – full-time, full-salary reporters writing for a newspaper – can be prohibitively expensive. A single story may interest few beyond that town’s own borders. But the cost to report that town story can equal the cost of a story published on Page One that will be noticed by all readers.
While we remain committed to suburban coverage, and we maintain suburban sections, we have significantly changed our approach – turning heavily to an online strategy that I will get to shortly.
So, over the years we have eliminated our foreign coverage and eliminated all national coverage outside of Washington, but we have not yielded in our commitment to cover local news – stories about people, government, politics, sports, business, arts and the creative community. Nor have we yielded in our desire to be a forum for ideas that originate in our universities and among our policymakers, or policies and politics that have a direct bearing on our readers.
Having said that, I should draw a distinction between maintaining coverage and maintaining distinct sections of the paper.
We have, in fact, eliminated sections -- one after the next. Today – Monday through Saturday – the Globe offers only four editorial sections, in comparison to as many as six or seven on some weekdays in the past.
Left to history were separate sections that focused on general features; things to do; home design; food; and health and science. All of those have been combined into one section, published Monday through Saturday, that we call “g” – for Globe – and that is themed by the day: health on Monday, food on Wednesday, things to do on Thursday, weekend arts and entertainment on Friday, along with arts and general features every day.
We also have consolidated news sections: Business, which for many years, appeared as a separate daily section now runs behind Metro from Monday through Saturday.
The consolidation of sections has allowed us to save on preposterously expensive newsprint and to reduce the ranks of people who work behind the scenes – in the areas of copy editing, layout, and production. All of those people do good and important work, but today there is less of that work to do.
We also sharply reduced the ranks of people who used to compile and prepare events listings for our arts section and for zoned suburban sections. We now urge entertainment venues and community organizations, big and small, to post their own events listings online.
Last year, we received more than 73,000 user submissions, up 98% from 2007. Thirty thousand venues within 60 miles of Boston participate. On the web, we now list more events than ever. The listings are more easily searchable. There are fewer errors. We can repurpose those listings into the newspaper. And we only require two full-time staffers and a part-timer -- about a third of what was previously needed -- to review these listings to assure that they meet our standards for completeness, literacy, and taste.
As you can see, going digital can open up considerable savings behind the scenes, allowing more reporters to remain on the streets.
So let me finally dive into digital. It is our future, after all.
A few years ago, in a series of meetings with the staff, we set a goal for ourselves at the Globe -- to become a true multimedia news and information organization. What did that mean? That we would provide news and information to people when they want it, where they want it, and how they want it. That we would bring together people who share passions and interests so they can exchange information and ideas among themselves. And that we would help people find the information they want, whether it comes from us or someone else.
If we hoped to achieve that goal, we had a lot of catching-up to do. We did not then regard online as equal to print. Not all staffers saw online as their responsibility. We did not have all the necessary skills, and we did not have the right equipment. We did not move quickly enough to develop new products. And we had not fully changed our thinking and transformed our culture.
Systematically, we have set out to address each of those shortcomings.
Can I declare “mission accomplished”? No. But we have accomplished a lot, far more than we are given credit for -- by our online critics, by media pundits, by even ourselves.
What is the test of whether we as a profession are connecting with the public? The number of people who buy our newspapers? Or is it the number of people who read our journalism? Surely, the latter. And on that score we are doing very, very well. Readership of our journalism – the total of those who read us in print or read us online – is greater than ever.
The Globe, for example, ranks as the 14th largest newspaper in the country. But its website typically ranks sixth in the number of unique visitors every month to our website. In the month of February, 5.7 million unique visitors visited our website, Boston.com. No other site in Boston or New England comes anywhere close. Among the newspaper websites in the top 10, ours came in second to the New York Times in the time people spent on our site, ahead of the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Washington Post.
Video at one time was completely foreign to us. Today, we are producing 131 videos each month -- taken by reporters, photographers, and a small clutch of videographers. Some are quick clips. Others are at the level of top-notch documentaries, the latest example being the multimedia feast we provided in February with a seven-part series on Ted Kennedy.
Video plays grew by an average per month of 27% in 2008, reaching 1.7 million plays in December. We have even furnished video to a local television station and the Today Show on NBC -- a video of a reunion between a woman and the firefighter who saved her life when she was an infant 40 years ago. When published on our site in February, that video recorded an astounding 1.8 million plays.
Clearly, we have found new ways to cover and engage our community -- ways that are as gratifying, and as important and effective, as a good story in the paper. We now know that videos and blogs and chats and storytelling via photo gallery constitute journalism that serves the public. Even in the incredibly shrinking newsroom, we are expanding our professional horizons and we remain a trusted source of news and information.
We now have on our site what I believe is the world’s best photo blog. It is called The Big Picture. On many days, it attracts hundreds of thousands of unique visitors. It tells the story of world events, near and far, through powerful full-screen photographs taken by the world’s best photographers.
We have an outstanding New England Patriots blog that gets 50,000 visits daily or more. But we also have a smart, lively blog on religion called Articles of Faith that can attract tens of thousands of visits every day, and a well-read blog called White Coat Notes about news in the local medical and scientific arena.
I mentioned earlier the challenge of providing comprehensive coverage to suburban communities at a cost we can afford. Our answer to this challenge came late last year when Boston.com, launched the first of what we hope eventually will be 120 hyperlocal sites.
Today, we have sites for only four towns, but so worried was one of our competitors that it sued us as soon as we launched, claiming we infringed their copyright because of our approach to aggregation. We’ve reached a settlement, but the overall direction of these hyperlocal sites remains unchanged: We pay a freelance blogger in each town to cover key events, get to know people in the community, evangelize for the town site, and enlist them in contributing to it. Each town has a wiki, where citizens can contribute their own knowledge about local cultural institutions, schools, houses of worship, and more. And the site aggregates stories from blogs, other news sites, and a variety of information sources.
Important to note, we continue to maintain reporters in our suburban regions. Their job is to cover the most interesting, most important stories -- those most likely to be read in those towns and
beyond. And their stories populate zoned sections of the newspaper as well as the front of our Metro section and the front page of the Globe.
If the hyperlocal strategy works -- and the jury is still out -- we will furnish more people with more news and information that strikes close to home.
Earlier in this talk, I posed the question of whether news organizations, including the Globe, will be able to adequately cover their communities when they are subject to severe, unrelenting financial pressures. And I said that for now I believe we can. But I cautioned that this was my belief and my hope, not a prediction and certainly not a promise.
Good journalism does not come cheap. The most powerful journalism -- breakthrough journalism -- can be shockingly expensive.
The first story in the Globe’s Pulitzer-winning investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and a 40-year cover-up, was published in January, 2002, but it required eight months of reporting and major litigation before a single word appeared in print. Another year of reporting by a team of eight staffers resulted in publication of 1,000 stories. The overall cost of this effort was probably more than $1 million in staff salaries, and tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs. But the journalism’s impact has been long-lasting and profound -- in Boston, around the country, and around the world.
I also think back to what we at the Miami Herald did when the presidential election of 2000 left the winner in doubt: Was the winner Bush or Gore? The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a recount, meaning Bush would be declared the winner. But the Miami Herald, making use of Florida’s expansive public-records law, decided to conduct a recount of its own -- examining every ballot in every Florida county. To assure credibility, we retained a major accounting firm, BDO Seidman, to perform its own recount at the same time.
The chief executive of Knight Ridder, which then owned the Miami Herald, agreed to pay the bill for such a recount -- a bold decision, though virtually unnoticed, and a decision I’ll always appreciate. He asked us for an estimate of the cost. We told him $250,000, which is a lot of money. But the project cost us even more -- $850,000. The chief executive, Tony Ridder, paid the bill without complaint.
Over the years, Tony Ridder came under fierce criticism for having mandated many rounds of cost-cutting at Knight Ridder. But, think about it, how many newspaper executives would do now what he did then -- spending so generously on a county-by-county, ballot- by-ballot recount?
Will newspapers be able to fund journalism that ambitious if financial pressures remain as crushing as they are today? And if newspapers become websites only, what level of sustained investigative reporting or ambitious journalistic enterprise can they really support?
The editor of a small, nonprofit news site in Chicago recently suggested that a newsroom of 26 people costing $2 million could replicate the entire local news operations of the Chicago Tribune or the Chicago Sun-Times. I’ve seen the spreadsheet he offered as proof. That document only proves that such a small news site – with very low-paid staff, by the way -- could do no such thing.
A major plane crash, with hundreds dead, would consume virtually the entire resources of such a newsroom, leaving few people to cover other subjects for days, if not weeks. A major school- shooting spree would consume half the staff for days, if not weeks.
A scandal involving the governor of Illinois selling an open seat in the U.S. Senate -- imagine that -- might absorb the resources of a quarter of the staff for months. This online plan allows for only two cops reporters in the entire Chicago metropolitan area -- covering crime morning to night, weekends, holidays. Will there be time for anyone to dig into the police department as one of the city’s most powerful institutions? Leaving aside that there are no sports reporters in this newsroom, there also are no business reporters and no arts reporters, as if that did not constitute local coverage.
There is no way a project like the Miami Herald recount could be performed by a newsroom of this size. (The person who dreamed up that 26-person, online newsroom should know. He was the computer-assisted reporter who worked on that recount for months and months.) Nor could such a newsroom undertake anything like our investigation of a cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
OK, so if 26 people and $2 million doesn’t really work, what does?
I have seen a few hypotheses for how a major metropolitan newsroom could become online-only. I can honestly say that I have seen none that allows for anything close to the breadth and depth of coverage that metropolitan newspapers offer today. It is not enough to say that something will be sacrificed. In fact, a great deal will be sacrificed.
And yet -- and here I’ll quote the Internet scholar Clay Shirky -- “ ‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!’ has never been much of a business model.”
For many years now, newspaper owners and executives -- and even some newspaper editors -- have used one particular word to describe the work product of their newsrooms. The word is “content.”
If the word “content” has substantive meaning, I have yet to hear it. They might as well have used the word “stuff” because it gives short shrift to the work we do and how that work adds value. Mostly, we do journalism, and journalism is different from mere “content.”
One of our stories last year at the Globe goes a long way toward explaining the difference.
Last year, in South Boston, a 14-year-old girl named Acia Johnson and her 3-year-old sister were killed in an early morning fire.
Their mother and family dog were safely out of their home, a row house. But the girls were trapped on the third floor. They were urged to jump to save themselves. They did not, and they perished in a fire that was believed to be arson.
These tragedies make the evening news. People who watch say, “What a shame. How sad.” Journalists say, “What really happened here? And why?” And then they do the hard work to find out.
Troubling details emerged from the deaths of 14-year-old Acia Johnson and her 3-year-old sister. The mother was a drug addict with a long criminal record. Acia’s father was in jail.
Acia, according to those who knew her, had defied the circumstances of her birth and her dysfunctional family life. She was a talented basketball player, a mother-figure to her little sister, an honor roll student who was trying to study her way out of poverty. By state order, she wasn’t supposed to be living in the house where she died.
Two of our reporters sought to answer the lingering questions: How did so many fail Acia? How did her family fail her? Her neighbors? Her school? The government?
The reporters went to the county prison and met with Acia’s father. They interviewed other relatives. They went to the community center, the schools, courthouses in Massachusetts and Florida, and the offices of state agencies that were supposed to be monitoring and helping Acia, but failed. This was a story of neglect at every stage, along every path, and it was a story that our reporters told in a 7,500-word narrative.
The story elicited an outpouring of sympathy, but fortunately there was more than that. There was action.
The child welfare agency instituted reforms that would affect the placement and monitoring of about 500 children a year. Shortly, the governor asked the state’s child advocate to launch an investigation. The advocate issued a report in December describing fundamental failures by the state and calling for better training for social workers, improved information-sharing with law enforcement, and more comprehensive documentation of neglect and abuse. The governor pledged to follow through.
These stories, by reporters Keith O’Brien and Donovan Slack, were not “content.” They were journalism. And that is what was called for here -- professional, experienced journalists who could spend the time and resources, who had the access and the know- how, and ultimately the drive, to unearth the tragic institutional failures that allowed Acia’s life to be cut short.
These are the stories that newspapers -- the Boston Globe and others everywhere in this country and around the world -- strive to deliver and the stories that so many readers want. Today, despite all we have done to transform ourselves -- and all we will do -- we do not know how journalism of that caliber will be paid for. And if it is not paid for, it cannot be practiced.
In many ways, we are headed for a thrilling new world of media. Technology allows journalists today to tell stories in ways that were never possible before, to reach audiences larger than ever, and to build a tight and more intimate bond with the public. For young journalists, there can be remarkable opportunity as old media models crumble and as an entrepreneurial culture takes hold in a field that has long been dominated by overbearing media behemoths. There is a lot to be excited about, and a lot that is healthy.
Those entering the field today will be able to leapfrog predecessors who are unwilling or unprepared to change. They can find opportunities in new ventures.
That is what a friend of mine, Jonathan Weber, did when he left the mainstream media, raised venture capital, and then started a website called NewWest.net four years ago. From its base in Missoula, Montana, and with freelance correspondents across the Rockies, the site covers regional politics, growth and development, and community culture. In the long run, Jonathan wrote recently, sites like his “will feed the families of plenty of great reporters and editors.” I admire his commitment to real journalism, I applaud his entrepreneurial spirit, I like his optimism, and I hope he’s right.
Once again, I’ll quote from Clay Shirky and his brilliant, recent essay -- on his blog -- about the impact of the Internet on newspapers. “Society doesn’t need newspapers,” he says. “What we need is journalism...
“For a century,” he writes, “the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.”
And so there will be many experiments, many new models. Some will be nonprofit. But many will seek to make a profit, a big one. An era of entrepreneurship for journalism has begun.
Entrepreneurship comes with greater risks. First, greater risks for those who finance and start new media ventures. Experimentation will bring business failures. So do not go into this field for lifetime job security.
There also are risks for the practice of journalism. There are risks that journalism will turn cynically to the quick, the easy, and the cheap -- that a story’s greatest accomplishment will be to get a million page views, rather than to correct an injustice, or unearth wrongdoing, or give voice to people who would not otherwise be heard.
I am not here with easy answers, or even to provide comfort and reassurance. The answers must come from you -- from a generation of journalists who are willing to try new things, journalists who will tell revealing stories in new ways and with dazzling new tools, and journalists who lust for professional adventure. And from a generation of journalists who can embrace all that is new without abandoning the best of journalism’s traditions and principles, the very principles that gave rise to this lecture series when it was established in honor of Robert Ruhl, whose paper here in Oregon won the Pulitzer Prize for meritorious public service.
Those are the principles of fairness, honesty, accuracy, and ethical behavior of every sort; a driving curiosity about our neighbors, our neighborhoods, and the broader world; an openness to people of every background; a willingness to speak truth in the face of power; and a special commitment to holding accountable those who abuse the public trust.
And, finally -- above all -- a calling to serve the public interest. Thank you very much.