Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 10, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Future of Journalism


  • Amid the economic downturn, the journalism industry is shifting from a print to an online medium, causing newspapers to cut ties with hundreds of reporters. Find out how several laid-off print journalists are taking their craft to the Web. Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication Professor Tim McGuire discusses the future of journalism.
Category: Business/Economy

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
The old saying "stop the presses" takes on new meaning as falling ad revenue in the web age is taking a toll on the newspaper jobs. An analysis by the publication "Ad Age" that looked at labor department statistics shows that 1 in 11 newspaper jobs was lost last year. That's hit home for many local journalists as many newspapers around here announced job losses. The East Valley Tribune has reduced its print edition to just four days a week. I'll talk to a journalism professor about the changes in the newspaper industry but first Mike Sauceda tells us about some of those laid-off journalists who are turning to the web for a solution.

Mike Sauceda:
142 people were laid off by the East Valley Tribune last year, including some reporters and editors. The reason for the layoffs was the impact of the web on newspapers nationwide. A group of ex-Tribune reporters have turned to the mouth that bit them for an answer.

Paul Giblin:
If you would have asked me five years ago would I be involved in something like this? I would have said, no. Not only would I have told you five years ago that I wouldn’t be involved with it, I would have told you it wouldn't work.

Mike Sauceda:
The four former Tribune employees, Paul Giblin, Dennis Welch, Mary Kay Rhineheart, and Patty Epler joined financial forces with political consultant Bob Grossfeld to start the Arizona Guardian. The Guardian focuses on reporting from the capitol with all involved except Grossfeld in reporting from the statehouse.

Paul Giblin:
We’re not bloggers. We're down here working 8, 10, 12 hours a day. All four of us are down here every single day of the week. We're working on the weekends. We’re doing journalism. This is our job. This is our profession. This is what we’re doing, this isn’t a hobby. It’s not something we do in the afternoons for kicks. This is a job. Since we're writing for the insider crowds, we're writing for people who watch "Horizon," people who know the topics already. We don't have to write for the soccer mom, or the NASCAR dad, we don’t have to explain the most basic government things. Our audience already knows how things work. They have a pretty good understanding. We can get into a story without a whole lot of background and build-up.

Mike Sauceda:
Giblin says there is an audience for the Arizona Guardian.

Paul Giblin:
I think lobbyists, I think industry people who are down here trying to affect the law, I think, for instance, restaurants and bar owners who are interested, law enforcement communities real interested in what we're doing. Health care sectors are interested in what we're doing. The tourism sector is looking at our site. Everything that the legislature touches, which is nearly everything, is looking at our site.

Mike Sauceda:
One of the great dilemmas of any web-reporting service is how to make money. The subscription model has worked for some web-reporting sites, but not many. Giblin thinks it'll work for the Arizona Guardian with rates of $150 a month for a premium professional service to $30 a month for basic consumer service.

Paul Giblin:
We thought about our business model for a long time before we got involved in this. We looked around and saw that newspapers were pulling out of the capitol. Papers that were here are no longer here. Papers that are still here have smaller staffs and less experienced staffs. We believe we have the biggest staff and certainly most experienced staff. We think we bring a real value to the coverage here at the state capitol, value that people can't get elsewhere. We believe they'll pay for it. We believe for our crowd, the insider crowd, they'll want to know what is going on in the capitol and they're not really getting it anywhere else.

Mike Sauceda:
Advertising is also a revenue source, with Giblin saying he’s been surprised with the interest shown by advertisers. One thing that will help the Arizona Guardian and any other web-based reporting service is low overhead compared to a print newspaper.

Paul Giblin:
We don't have the pressesw we don't have the massive staff. We're not trying to do everything for all people if you want to find out what your kid's school lunch menu is going to be, you not going to find it on the Arizona Guardian. If you want to find out how the Arizona Cardinals are doing this week, you won’t find it on the Arizona Guardian. But if you want to find out very specific news about what is happening at the state capitol, about the state government, you'll find that here. We're able to target very closely and look for our audience.

Mike Sauceda:
Low overhead is helping another ex-Tribune reporter with his new reporting blog, Heat City. Nick Martin has focused on covering the trial of accused serial killer Dale Hausner. He's the only reporter on the web site.

Nick Martin:
I take a seat in the back of the courtroom most days. I have an internet access card that I pop into my laptop. It costs about $40 a month and I’m online blogging live. I have a little tag on the stories that are live from the courtroom that says so.

Mike Sauceda:
Martin’s revenue model is different, hoping his blog will be a means to an end.

Nick Martin:
The message sort of is I’m still here, I’m still working. There's a lot of people out there both in academia and leading news organizations who are spending an awful lot of time contemplating the future of industry but there's very few people that are actually going out there and trying things. I have a few donations that are coming in and some people have been very generous with their support in e-mails and kind words. Whether it's a revenue model that will work, we'll find out.

Mike Sauceda:
Both Giblin and Martin see their efforts as the covered wagons in the future of journalism.

Nick Martin:
I think readers understand that and are looking for genuine authentic journalism that isn’t profit-driven, that provides them the information that they need for their day-to-day lives. Whether that's a subscription model that pays for really quality reporters to report on niche topics, like the Arizona Guardian is doing, whether it's a nonprofit or donation-driven model like what I’m doing.

Paul Giblin:
Five years from now, people will be looking back at us as the pioneers of what journalism will turn into.

Ted Simons:
With me now to talk about the changing newspaper industry is Tim McGuire, a professor at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Good to have you back on the program. Thank you for being here.

Tim McGuire:
Good to see you.

Ted Simons:
What we just saw, did you see a model that suggests the future or are you seeing models that maybe are bridging to something else we can't foresee quite yet?

Tim McGuire:
I think they're a bridge, but I agree with Nick Martin that you just saw pioneers. These are independent journalists who have skills that can report the news, can help people understand the news, can make sense of it. The problem is, is there a way to support that journalism? I admire the heck out of both these groups. I think they're showing great spunk and great courage. Spunk and courage get hard to eat sometimes.

Ted Simons:
I was going to ask: the subscription model, is that something you foresee as working?

Tim McGuire:
I’m skeptical and nervous about it. I think that it is going to depend on how indispensable that service can become. I will tell you, I’m very impressed with its quality. They're doing good stuff. They're doing stuff that as a newspaper man, I’d be very proud of. Can it stand on its own and will the public realize they need that information?

Ted Simons:
I’m glad you brought that up, because I was going to ask you: they're doing good stuff -- does the public want good stuff? I think people say they want good stuff. Are they willing to back it up?

Tim McGuire:
That hasn't been proven yet and that right now there's a big argument that the internet demands to be free. There's another argument from people like Bill Keller, the editor of the "New York Times" that says quality information wants to be paid for. That is going to be the argument that we see play out over the next few years. Are people going to want to pay for quality? A journalism wag just last week proposed that all newspapers withhold content from the web for one week.

Ted Simons:
I’m glad you brought that up, because I wonder if -- they could all do it, if they all do it, but you can't have someone allowing the water to get through the dike. You have to hold firm.

Tim McGuire:
But it'll be a fascinating experiment and a fascinating way for people to appreciate the value of what the people you just saw on the screen are doing. They're doing important stuff. But you're right, there has to come a point when people value that. What we've done for the last 70 years in this country is we had advertisers pay for that content. Newspapers presented information that attracted eyeballs, then newspapers and TV sold those eyeballs to advertisers. That's what’s broken. Advertisers aren't buying those eyeballs because they think they can get to them more directly with the web. The readership model and even the value of news is not broken. It's the advertising model that's broken. It's the way we subsidize this information.

Ted Simons:
Is there -- is there a way right now that you see or you're hearing of, is there a business model on the horizon -- be it Kindle, Amazon is coming out with Kindle II, I guess. The updated version of this little slate/book/computer things. Is there something out there that looks promising?

Tim McGuire:
Well, you're looking for the killer app. And if I had that, I wouldn't tell you, Ted. I don't have it, and I don't think anybody does. I do think there's an interesting thing happening and that people like you and I still have a need for newspaper and newspaper-type information. Younger readers are interested in a different type of information with different delivery systems. I think one of the thing publishers have to do is appeal to those markets separately and then find a bridge between the two of them.

Ted Simons:
Indeed, because it's not so much distributing that could be the problem here, it's news gathering. No one realizes how expensive news gathering is. Once it's gathered, everyone and their brother can sign up on a blog and start talking about it.

Tim McGuire:
This is not a device issue. The device will work itself out. How we deliver news will work itself out. But if in the process we lose the content gatherers and there’s no way to compensate them, our democratic society is going to be under attack.

Ted Simons:
What about nonprofits? Do they have a future?

Tim McGuire:
They might, again, for the people that value news. I think what Nick Martin is trying with Heat City is very noble. The question is going to be can he mobilize enough people? It's being tried in Minnesota with an organization called Min Post that's doing really good news, but will it be sustainable? That's the real question.

Ted Simons:
Last question, are you optimistic about the future of journalism?

Tim McGuire:
I am optimistic about journalism. I am pessimistic about the corporate news model that has supported journalism. Something will have to rise up in its place.

Ted Simons:
All right, Tim, always a pleasure. Thank you for joining us.

Tim McGuire:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Get the latest from the state capitol in our weekly legislative update and hear about plans to stimulate Arizona’s economy by getting more renewable energy manufacturers to set up shop in the state. That's Wednesday at 7:00 on "horizon." That’s it for now. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

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