“The End of Newspapers?” [Note, the last in a series of posts recapping a NYSWI symposium]

(Panelists Bill Keller (former NY Times Executive Editor); Jim Rich (Executive Editor of Huffpost and formerly of the NY Daily News); Richard Tofel (President of ProPublica); Pamela Newkirk (journalism professor and author); moderator Rex Smith (Albany Times-Union Editor)

The answer, pretty much, is yes. Newspapers as we’ve known them are doomed, being killed by the internet, a double whammy of declining circulation and declining advertising, which of course reinforce each other. People are getting their news elsewhere. And in the supply-and-demand market for advertising, the web vastly increases supply, driving prices down.

Print newspapers may survive filling special niches in small communities. But major organs like the New York Times will likely evolve into web-only formats. Tofel suggested the key to success there will be combining high quantity with high quality (which small local outfits cannot do). Tofel said there is still a viable business in being the leading news organization in a decent-sized place. But that could be a public radio station.

Prof. Newkirk noted that students still flock to journalism courses, and consume news (mainly online) at a higher rate than their elders. However, there’s a problem with media literacy — separating wheat from chaff. Bill Keller said we need to start teaching this in 4th grade — call it critical thinking, or civics.

[Comment: Amen. The demise of old fashioned civics education is a bad thing. Americans no longer seem to understand what this country is all about. Including the role of the press (as a panelist said). But this is no new revelation, it’s talked about endlessly. How do we fix it? Not easily. It’s mainly up to local school administrations. But they have much else on their plates.]

The discussion couldn’t avoid Trump’s attacks on the media. He has exacerbated what was already declining trust in mainstream media — part of an overall erosion of societal trust generally.

Tofel noted Trump’s low poll ratings, and queried how Americans have gotten the idea that he’s underperforming (to put it mildly). They got it from the news — which shows it’s still working. But during the campaign, not so much. Part of it was that Trump’s candidacy wasn’t deemed a serious threat. So while there was endless coverage of Clinton’s e-mails, there was no TV news takedown of Trump on his abusive business history.

True. Yet if “grab them by the pussy” didn’t put his voters off Trump, nothing could have.

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