Steiger: Embrace Internet, But Protect Journalism

By: Joe Strupp

Former Wall Street Journal Managing Editor Paul Steiger said Tuesday the dwindling number of newspapers is “robbing” the country of its democracy, but added that those same news outlets need to embrace the Internet revolution in order to serve their audiences and survive.

“We used to be able to count on robust metropolitan dailies to provide a steady flow of this valuable work,” Steiger said in remarks to the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday. “Now, while many newspapers continue to do as much of it as they can, the destruction of the business model they once depended on and the resultant shrinkage and even shuttering of newspapers around the country are robbing the American people of an important bulwark of our democracy.”

Steiger, who now serves as editor-in-chief of ProPublica, is one of several guests featured during a two-day FTC event in Washington, D.C., titled “How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” Others speaking today include News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and Huffington Post Founder Arianna Huffington.

Steiger noted the impact of the Web on traditional newspaper business models, but said they can continue to do their work if they change with the times.

“This change, of course, is just one of the many effects of a revolution in the way we get our news and information, caused by the dazzling rise of the Internet. This revolution has transformed the typical large and mid-size metro newspaper from a hugely profitable locally dominant player turning out a must-have product for vast swaths of
society, into an at-best break-even business with the dismal prospect of flattening or shrinking revenues,” Steiger said. “Newspapers are in the position of producing, at legacy expense, a product that is liked but considered not needed by college graduates over the age of 40, while increasingly ignored by everyone else.”

Steiger cited job cuts in recent years, stating that in just the last two calendar years, buyouts and layoffs had eliminated nearly 47,000 newspaper jobs.

“Staff cuts have hit two areas particularly hard: investigative reporting and foreign reporting, in part because these are among the most expensive types of coverage,” Steiger said. “The Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun, Newsday and many others have shut their once proud foreign bureaus entirely. While ProPublica is focused on investigative reporting, I believe that creative solutions are also badly needed to provide the kind of competitive, in-depth international reporting of politics and economics these newspapers once offered.”

He added that the Internet can be the way for newspapers to continue if they are embracing the model properly: “The process of finding and communicating what we used to call news may no longer require newspapers-at least not as we have known them, as seven-day-a-week, ink-on paper compendiums of new information on a broad range of subjects. But the process will still require journalism and journalists, to smoke out the most difficult-to-report situations, to test glib assertions against the facts, to probe for the carefully contrived hoax. These are reporting activities that take a great deal of time, money, and skill.”

Steiger’s remarks can be found here.

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