By: M.L. STEIN
TELEVISION AND CYBERSPACE systems will not replace printed news if newspapers provide information that readers need but can’t get from other sources.
This was the message brought by two speakers at a California editors’ meeting. For Nancy Hicks Maynard, chair of the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, and Mort Rosenblum, an Associated Press special correspondent, the answer to digital information is simple: add value to the news with enterprise, trend and depth reporting.
Maynard, former co-owner and publisher of the Oakland Tribune and a newswoman for 30 years with the New York Times and other papers, said: “When I ask journalists what is the enemy of news, they reply ignorance and illiteracy and that nobody reads. But that’s not the real enemy. We are fighting digitalization . . . Information technology is bringing about a total realignment of marketing and distribution, the functions that pay for news creation.”
Because all media compete for the same audience, newspapers can rise above the pack by deep, original “private-label” reporting that relies more on specialization than a generic feed, Maynard said.
A director of Chicago-based Tribune Co., Maynard said the emerging structure of the media business virtually mandates that newspapers get involved in “public interest reporting.”
“As much as 85 percent of news is syndicated, reducing it to the status of a commodity, and commodities do not command high value in the market,” she asserted. “Commodities gain value from the way they are processed.”
Longer, explanatory articles are commodities with added value, the speaker went on. The most valuable ones are exclusive, investigative pieces that add new knowledge to the information flow or provide context to current events.
Some newspapers, notably the Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Times and Washington Post, are already embarked on the course and more should take up the challenge, she said.
Digital databases, which can be powerful tools for journalists to monitor government, may be exploited even more effectively by serving segments of the public with specialized reporting, Maynard suggested, commending the Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer for reorganizing reporting functions around computerized information technologies.
“Journalism is moving into an era where news context will be as important as content,” Maynard predicted, warning that this new approach can be tedious and expensive to produce, requiring news “to keep reinventing itself.”
“Competitive pressures become more life-threatening each day,” Maynard said. “If journalists insist on doing things as we always have and if we don’t allow new technologies to help us do our job better, we’ll become irrelevant ? lost in cyberspace.”
A similar view was expressed by AP’s Rosenblum, a self-described “jurassic journalist” who believes “the message far outweighs the means of delivering it.”
Both spoke at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim at the joint conference of the California Society of Newspaper Editors and the AP News Executives Council of California and Nevada.
“Technology has rocketed us forward, but it’s a mixed blessing,” Rosenblum remarked. And television news, he added, presents an incomplete picture of such events as the Persian Gulf and Bosnian conflicts.
“When live cameras or online conversations deal with something close to home, the common context is understood by all,” Rosenblum said. “But when the camera crosses borders and oceans, this changes.”
People have misconceptions about faraway places that require solid reporting by knowledgeable correspondents to correct, he said. For example, factors leading to Iraq’s incursion into Kuwait and the breakup of Yugoslavia were reported by savvy print correspondents months before the fighting erupted.
Rosenblum, whose reporting has taken him to 200 countries, pleaded with the editors: “Keep us obsolete foot soldiers out there, with our low-tech pencils and old-fashioned skinny notebooks. However newspapers reshape themselves to the demands of the new century, the old root word remains: news.”
?(“If journalists insist on doing things as we always have and if we don’t allow new technologies to help us do our job better, we’ll become irrelevant ? lost in cyberspace.”) [Caption & Photo]
?( ? Nancy Hicks Maynard, chair, Freedom Forum Media Studies Center) [Photo & Caption]