Finally, I've handed in my grades for the semester and have time to write up my notes from last week's World Editors Forum in Capetown!
If you think the World Association of Newspapers was bemoaning the death of newspapers, you're wrong.
Instead, the focus was on rebirth and reincarnation. Based on the conversations and panels I sat through over the course of three days (see detailed summaries and see videos on the Editors' Weblog), it was pretty clear that newspaper companies aren't on the verge of death. The world's leading newspapers, at least, have already gone quite a long way to re-create themselves as mulimedia platforms, with the paper product being only a part of their business. Many are connecting with or generating online communities, many are starting to find ways to bring the public into the newsgathering process, and they're going mobile.
But whatever the format, people recognized that ultimately, newspapers' survival will depend on journalism. Credible, accurate, and relevant journalism.
The job of a newspaper journalist is changing fast. Newspaper journalists are increasingly expected to tell their stories in many places: on paper, online, and on various devices (mobile phones, ipods, pda's etc.). They will do so not just with words, but with pictures, sounds, and video. What's more, they will collaborate with their audiences and their communities in the news-gathering and story research process. They will also enable and facilitate conversations with the public about the newspaper's journalism.
This vision of the future of newspapers is not new - people like Jeff Jarvis and Dan Gillmor have been advocating for various aspects of it for the past several years. What's exciting to see is how mainstream that vision has now become. There was no question about whether to create an integrated newsroom that produce multimedia online news in addition to newspaper stories. The only question was how, and how fast.
Conference participants received two very useful publications. One is a 160 page booklet titled "Trends In Newsrooms," and the other was the 70 page Innovations in Newspapers 2007 World Report. Neither is available free online but you can download a PDF of the results of a very interesting multi-nation public poll here.
The authors of the first report write: "Clearly, print editors see the internet and its new journalism components as the next wave of their own business and are preparing for this wave, instead of opting to fight it." Jeff Jarvis, who contributed a section of the report, thinks newspaper companies still haven't gone far enough, however. "Print will not die, but print is not our future," he says. "Now it is time to go the next step, to stop defining ourselves by our medium, paper, and to start defining ourselves by our service: journalism."
The big headline from the Harris/Innovation News Readership Survey (PDF) was that the public really wants good journalism. Before showing the detailed survey results, the survey's authors present the following conclusions they have taken from the data in a page titled "Winners and Losers:"
• ONLINE NEWS AND INFORMATION: up significantly in all geographies
• TV NETWORK: news down significantly in all geographies
• Combined NEWSPAPERS down modestly to significantly in all geographies
• RADIO remains relevant, modestly down
• CABLE NETWORK NEWS increases modestly in most markets
• MAGAZINES are entertainment focused, not news and information
Further conclusions based on the survey results (emphasis added):
- Newspapers must remove their bias to improve their credibility/image [They want journalism! Not just opinion!]
- While local will always matter to a reader, there appears to be a new and urgent need for worldwide news [This would seem to indicate that the epidemic downsizing of international correspondence is a bad business idea.]
- Online news and information will replace TV network news as the leading source, but newspapers remain a vital source by themselves and dominant if they can further integrate online into their identity
- Newspapers can significantly upgrade their existing product with more objectivity, more in-depth reporting and analysis, more personal relevance, better and more visual design, and better writing/stories
- All media compete for the reader’s time: you cannot create more time, only increase its value
- We are increasingly affected by national and world events. Newspapers have an opportunity to help us better understand global issues and their impact [Again, another argument against reducing the international news hole!]
- Newspapers as ‘watch-dogs.’ Create a context for what matters, see the issues, and hold others accountable
- Relevancy matters:provide news and information that is interesting to know and that you can use in daily life
- We don’t necessarily expect newspapers to ‘change the world’, but certainly to help us better ‘see the world’
Numerous speakers throughout the conference reiterated versions of this statement in the "Trends in Newsrooms" report: "the next generation of journalists are going to survive on multi-tasking in multimedia." As a teacher of journalism and new media, I learned a lot about where news organizations are headed globally, the challenges they face, and the kinds of skills and qualities editors are now looking for in hiring entry-level journalists. I hope that these lessons will help me and my colleagues in Hong Kong prepare our students to become successful - and employable - journalists of the future.
At the end of an excellent session on newspaper transformation, Jennifer Carroll, Vice-President/New Media Content at Gannett Co. (USA) was asked by a journalism professor what we should be teaching the journalists of the future. Her answer was that while technical skills are useful and give entry-level journalists an edge, the most important qualities she and other Gannett editors look for are strong journalism skills and instincts: "It helps to have understanding of all the multimedia skills," she said, "But most important is having people who are curious and smart and able to communicate well." (See the video of that session here. Also see the session on integrated newsrooms here.)
The essence of journalism is eternal and changes little no matter what medium you're working in.
I was on a panel with the unfortunate title of "user generated content" which is what many news companies call blogs and other citizen media. I did my usual spiel about Global Voices. The most interesting speaker I thought was Didier Pillet of France-Ouest, who talked about how his news organization is cultivating "village reporters:" citizens who help the paper cover local events, with direction and editing from newspaper staff. A summary of what he said is included here. At the end of the session all of us on the panel were asked to give some predictions about what the World Editors' Forum will be discussing next year. Here's the video: