Friday, May 19, 2006

Press Club Forum on the Future of the Press

It was billed as a forum on the future of the Beacon Journal, but today's Akron Press Club event was light on specifics about the ABJ, long on musings about where journalism in general is headed. The event was a panel discussion with ABJ columnists David Giffels, Diane Evans (who is currently on leave from the paper) and Bob Dyer.

We got no new information regarding the topic of the day: the ultimate ownership of ABJ. Diane Evans's line: No news is no news. Dyer noted that worst case scenario is a private equity firm buying paper to slash staff, jack up the profit margin and sell it off.

That out of the way, the panel turned to discussions about the business of newspapers and how technology will shape journalism in the future. On the business side of things, Evans had the most to say. She made the argument that the news business is not compatable with a publicly traded company. She noted that when she started and John S. Knight "was in the corner office" she never heard him utter the phrase "profit margin." As someone who has fretted about the how stock market pressures deter healthy behavior in other industries, I'm sympathetic to her point.

On the other hand, her takes on the online world were a little pat. She seems to see online vs. print as the only story -- two competitors in a zero sum game. I've said it before -- both print and online journalism are competing less with each other than with forces driving people away from news consumption generally. To the extent I consider myself competing with anyone, its Nintendo.

We did get some glimpses into the future of the newspaper. Giffels says it is an exciting time to be in journalism as the industry learns to adapt to new technologies. Happily, this event took place after the Lockheed Airdock fire -- subject of's best new media coverage yet. The panelists were clearly-- and justifiably -- proud of it. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. The video feed alone is worth the time. Thursday afternoon they were getting written stories and photos up practically in real time. Lockheed people were getting their updates from

I was late -- because I'm always late -- so Giffels saw me come in. When an audience member asked about blogs, he noted my presence in the audience. He calls blogs both and exciting opportunity for print journalism and a challenge to print journalism. As he said later, I had a walk-on part in the event.

Evans chimed in that she doesn't see bloggers as journalists. We're more like ham radio operators. I don't agree with what I think she means by this, but it has a kernel of truth. A blog is a communications tool. Like a ham radio, it can be used in many different ways. I think people are using blogs in more different ways than anyone has ever used shortwave radios, if for no other reason than there are more of us. Are we journalists? Some are; most aren't.

More generally on the subject of news and technology, Evans noted the industry's urgency to figure out how to deliver the news online. Dyer noted that the primacy on to getting information up quickly on a website and keeping it updated can interfere with doing journalism good journalism in the field. Giffels says that the Beacon is in the process of redesigning the newsroom to do more with putting stuff on the internet.

I asked a question about advertising. I think the future of communication on the internet is inextricably tied to advertising, which is a challenge. I mentioned that I couldn't recall seeing ads on the BJ website. Upon returning home I realized that's because the ad blocker on my Norton Security Suite really works. Bad on me, but it supports the point -- it's hard to get advertisers excited about virtual ad space when commonly available software prevents readers from seeing the ads at all. (I've turned it off now, it a show of good faith to MTB Network advertisers.)

After the discussion, as has happened so often in the past, I met a number of people who read me. This challenge of new media fascinates me. I have a number of other thoughts on it that may make it up sometime this weekend. But now the kids are up and will want to play outside, so don't look for me here until tonight.