These Editors Feel Pretty Damn Good About Newspapers

By: Mark Fitzgerald

The first global survey of top newspaper editors — taken at a time when the business has been buffeted by reader and advertiser defections to the Internet — finds a group that is surprisingly optimistic about the future of the medium.

Fully 85% of the 435 editors surveyed said they were very optimistic or somewhat optimistic about the future of newspapers. Nearly a quarter — 24% –of the editors proclaimed themselves very optimistic, while just 3% described themselves as “not at all optimistic.”

This first ?Newsroom Barometer” was conducted by Zogby International for Reuters and the World Editors Forum (WEF), the organization for editors-in-chief and other senior news executives inside the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers. Western Europe is overrepresented in the survey, accounting for 42% of the responding editors. Fifteen percent of responding editors were from African papers, 14% from Asia, and 9% from North America.

Editors in general seem to be cheerful about the prospect that news is moving away from print. A whopping 80% describe the Web and other new media as a “welcome addition” to print newspapers. The higher a newspaper’s own Web traffic, the study suggests, the more welcoming an editor is towards online news.

Some 40% of the executives expect online to be the most common platform for news within ten years. Another 20% expect news to migrate to a yet-uninvented medium. Only 35% believe print will be the number one medium for newspapers.

And if, IYO, U thnk TXT-ing news on fones will dumb-down journalism — well, editors worldwide disagree. Half of the responding editors believe the quality of journalism will improve over while just one-quarter think it will worsen.

One reason for the rosy view of journalism quality may be that editors believe overwhelmingly that the increased interactivity between newspapers and readers made possible by the Web is a good thing. Fully 75% of editors say the interactivity is positive while just 8% are skeptical.

Editors are also pretty sanguine about free newspapers as a competitive threat. About 30% of editors say they are a threat, while 34% call them a ?welcome addition? to newspaper?s marketing quiver, and another 28% believe they have a negligible effect on paid products.

“Editors recognize competition from online sources and free papers, and in turn are making efforts to adapt to 21st century readership,” WEF Director Bertrand Pecquerie said in a statement. “They know how to effectively make the transition to online journalism without reducing editorial quality. Editors-in-chief realize that content matters more than ever and cutting newsroom resources is not at all an effective solution. The reshaping of news will take place with journalists, rather than at their expense.”

That said, editors told the survey that their first priority is training journalists to report using new media. Hiring more journalists took second place.

The results of the Newsroom Barometer survey, are contained in Trends in Newsrooms 2007, the annual WEF report available at http://www.trends-in-newsrooms.org. WEF said the survey will be conducted annually to assess changes in attitudes and strategy in newsrooms worldwide.

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