The Future of Newspapers

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Stephen Engelberg, managing editor of ProPublica, Paul Starr, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton University & co-editor of The American Prospect, Richard Pérez Peña, New York Times reporter, and Eric Boehlert, senior fellow at Media Matters for America, and the author of the new book Bloggers on the Bus: How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press, discuss the future of the newspaper industry and the implications for the future of journalism.


Eric Boehlert, Stephen Engelberg, Richard Pérez Peña and Paul Starr

Comments [48]

driftpin from n.J.

The gig is up.


May. 17 2009 10:05 AM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn

A couple of responses to Brian Lehrer's dismaying misreading of my work:

May. 10 2009 12:07 AM
Norman Oder from Brooklyn, NY

Brian Lehrer's reaction to the Atlantic Yards issue and my Atlantic Yards Report blog was dismayingly shallow.

I've discussed questions of objectivity, neutrality, and fairness on my blog. See:

I cover public events that few or no other reporters covered. For example,

I'm happy to have that coverage compared to that of other reporters or to the transcript/video.

And yes, I critique the mainstream media.

May. 07 2009 06:09 PM

paul/29 -- what data do you mean?

job of real/actual reporters is to gather data (and if it's govt. data, to check its veracity and relevance)

May. 07 2009 01:19 PM
Ivana from Yorkville

Carla, your father should be encouraged to try reading on the Internet because the print can be enlarged and the monitor is back-lit so it eliminates the need for extraordinary lighting which I've found to be necessary when reading the hard copy of the newspaper. I hate to say it because you can't beat the serendipity factor of the actual newspaper in your hands spread out in front of you, and I still much prefer that and do it all the time, but there's a lot to be said about reading online for aging eyes. If only so many older people weren't so technophobic and terrified of computers. But I think with patience you can try to overcome that with your parents and others.

May. 07 2009 01:04 PM
Jacques Chauvet from New York

I worked for foreign and US Newspaper (the IHT). Management of these Media platforms are non progressive as far as analyzing the future of their industry. I worked for Newsweeklies the same applies there. No thought provoking research into the new generation (of readers) were ever done. No industry ad campaign was put together.

Now that the Web has become legitimize, the industry is bleeding.

With Kindle, text books will never be the same, and companies like Mc.Graw Hill will be hurt. Why? it is almost as if you go to your management with an issue concerning the future of the firm with an upcoming problem, you do become the issue.

I have been on both side of traditional and Non-traditional media. The issue lays with the management's vision of the future, not with new technology.

May. 07 2009 12:23 PM
Stephanie from Brooklyn

I, too, worry about the loss of real journalism, but not for the same reasons as Brian. We've always been able to read or listen to or watch those who express our opinions, and try to tune out the other side. This "middle ground" philosophy isn't what makes for good journalism. (Where is the middle ground re. slavery? or genocide?) Journalists are needed because they are trained to meet a standard of fact gathering, etc. I was recently involved in an "in-fight" in a group I belong to----well, actually, started-- partial disclousre?---on etsy, an ebay for artists and crafters, and I was surprised to find our "fight" being written about all over the blogosphere. One prominent "opposition" member blogs on parenting and green blogs, and after she posted, her story was repeated by many other blogs, as well as a well known green design website, and the website of a magazine I've seen on many newstands. The problem? Not one person checked their facts. They simply repeated the story of the first blogger. I was truly surprised by this and got a hands-on lesson on not believing everything that is found online. The lack of journalistic standards is what alarms and worries me. Also, re. listening to only one side: I always see angry and often bizarrely argumentative comments following the posts I read. These comments often don't rise to the level of "the other side." They are often angry, and/or racist, or simply attacking. We need to address this tendency as well.

May. 07 2009 12:15 PM
Ellen from Brooklyn

I think the NY Times should definitely consider becoming a non-profit. I value the content they provide and I would be willing to pay for it in the same way I pay for WNYC. Wouldn't many other people? I think to force people to pay and limit access to online content would be a true disservice to everyone, but I would be willing to donate to keep quality news accessible.

May. 07 2009 12:07 PM
JT from Long Island

@Laura, Google isn't comparable to a newspaper. They own the ad infrastructure and sell ads to others and the don't create their own content. They could probably fire most of their employees and cut non-search related projects and their revenue wouldn't be affected. They're primarily a search engine that is the starting point for most people when they go on the web. They make money as soon as most people launch their browsers and surf the web. No one makes ad money like Google does (MS, Yahoo and others are spending hundreds of millions and can't do it.)

I looked at ProPublica's web site and their main source of income isn't ads, it's philanthropic contributions.

May. 07 2009 12:06 PM
jgarbuz from Queens

There will always be a desire and market for news, and a concomitant need of merchants and manufacturers to advertise their wares. So far Google has found a very successful model in marrying up the two needs. I do believe cyberspace will become the major medium of entertainment and newsdelivery in this century, and perhaps we may have to rely more on quasi-governmental outlets, like the BBC, DW, PBS and the like to employ the serious reporters and journalists to get us the "hard" news, and leave the fluff to the out-for-profit outfits.

Of course that would mean more taxes or fees as in Britain and other countries that have government backed news outfits.

May. 07 2009 12:04 PM
Paul Baron from Cumming, GA

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May. 07 2009 12:04 PM
Grady from new jersey

Hasn't real investigative journalism been shrinking and shrinking and shrinking over the last 30-40 years anyway—being replaced by other higher profit subject matter?

What portion of newspaper budgets are dedicated to local investigations now anyway?

May. 07 2009 12:01 PM
Amy Schroeder from Brooklyn, NY

I'm working on a business plan that will help journalists to easily and cheaply create their own robust online news Websites. The world has a wealth of talented (and laid-off) journalists on its hands, and I'd hate to see them all go into PR.

My company provides an easy-to-use Web portal called WhoWhatWhen that provides sophisticated blog templates that cater to presenting news and entertainment. The concept is very similar to WordPress and other blog portals; the difference is that instead of catering to individual bloggers, WhoWhatWhen will cater to professional journalists who want to create their own online news sites.

I am the founder and former editor-in-chief of Venus Zine (, a magazine dedicated to covering women in music, the arts, and DIY culture. When I relaunched our Website in 2007, it took about six months to hire a Web design team, work on and revise the design and layout, incorporate social networking, and work out the kinks before pulling the final trigger.

WhoWhatWhen will eliminate the challenges and initial costs of Web design and organization. As far as funding, I'd love to work with an established blog company and help to set up a sustainable nonprofit model to encourage reader support.

May. 07 2009 12:00 PM
kate from new york

With a few exceptions, the best journalism is NOT coming from newspapers. It is coming from independent writers and journalist who are mainly publishing in books and other forums. I point to Naomi Klien, Dahr Jamail, etc. Look at the coverage of the Iraq war. The main newspapers bought the Dept of Defense lines without serious questioning them.

May. 07 2009 11:58 AM
Stephanie from Chelsea

A few ideas:

What about doing away the printed paper completely except for a small newsstand run for travelers and then charging a fraction of current subscription rates (half or even a quarter or less) for electronic access to content, either through the Internet or iPhone or Kindle-like device?

This would eliminate many fixed costs for newspaper distribution and recoup significant money from all of those now reading online for free.

May. 07 2009 11:58 AM
Martha Williams from NYC

Fundamentally, the issue with the net is everything is for free which undermines capitalistic economical model of the cheapest wins (this is a gross generalization, but...). Either we start charging for the net, which I am behind, or there is a new model altogether which isn't going to happen for a while. The "give it away model" is seeping into all corners of our culture and the reprecussions are deep, take a while to affect, but are hugely damagining to any industry that practices this.

May. 07 2009 11:58 AM
Carla from Chelsea


I was struck by what your guest said about his young daughter not knowing how to read a newspaper. On the other end of this many older people, such as my father, who grew up reading newspapers and are having trouble reading the paper because of poor eyesight. As newspaper readers get older, is there thought about how to deal with this change in the population or are things too far gone to think about the future?
Thank you

May. 07 2009 11:57 AM
Geoff Lewis from new york

There is a clear precedent for granting special priviledges to news organizations and it is certainly something that the Founders had in mind (i.e. postal-rate subsidies). Think about how the FCC gave broadcasters free access to the airwaves--with the understanding (abandoned in the Reagan years) that they were providing a public good and would fulfill their obligations by providing public affairs content.
Whether or not it requires anti-trust exemption, there should be a way to provide news organiztions with access to the public commons, which is now the Web. Internet access is analagous to the airwaves--a regulated public utility (delivery remains via regulated telephone, wireless and cable companies). These entities are all subject to licensing and franchise fees and other rules. So adding a requirement to collect revenue for news is not such a stretch. Maybe.
P.S. David Simon hits the scariest note. Look at how little local news makes it into surviving papers now (including the Times). Nobody is watching. And that is going to cost us dearly.

May. 07 2009 11:57 AM
Don from Long Island from Long Island

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press from government. The newspapers would be wise not to accept a bailout. Look at the control the government is exercising with GM. Would we want them controlling the news in a similar way?

May. 07 2009 11:56 AM
Paul from New York City

Re: A potential new business model for some piece of this.

"Data gatherers" gather data and put it on the Web for money or not. They may be described as citizen reporters or otherwise described.

Analysts, to whom we subscribe as individuals, not organizations, e.g. Bob Smith for Sports, Kevin Doe for American economic analysis, take this data and formulate columns.

The subscription rate is $X per month or year.

These are distributed over the Interwebs.

These analysts live in places where the COL is low but have great broadband connections so the cost of subscription doesn't need to be so high.

How far this goes before a person-on-the scene is required I do not know.

May. 07 2009 11:55 AM
Jim Cooper from Paramus NJ

about 80% of my printed newspaper goes directly into the paper recycle bag as soon as I open the newspaper.

However, the rest of it gets browsed anywhere I happen to be -- outside, on train, etc. and about 15% ends on a pile to be read when I get a free moment to scan a page.

None of the above is conducive to on-line use, at least for me!

May. 07 2009 11:55 AM
George from Manhattan

What about a "digital home delivery" format as a PDF that is emailed to a subscriber daily for a subscription fee? No bells & whistles in the PDF... just the same content that's in the printed paper with hyperlinks to multimedia or expanded content on the website. Then, like the physical paper, the subscriber just deletes it when he or she is done reading it.

You'd be able to read the paper on a digital device (laptop or phone) without an internet connection.

May. 07 2009 11:55 AM
Irene from Brooklyn

I tuned in late so you probably addressed this: I agree that state-involvement in the news-business is scary, but have folks examined BBC's model? I know they're state subsidized, but they've managed to remain surprisingly independent and produce quality journalism.

I also think the suggestion that papers should charge google to list their news (just a penny or so per hit?) seems good -- since google makes money off of re-listing them, no?

May. 07 2009 11:53 AM

Did the newspapers ever think that no one would even go to their newspapers online if it weren't for google.

May. 07 2009 11:52 AM
Kate from Bronx

I could live with a Thursday and a Sunday paper in hand and gladly would pay for online NY Times the other days. But no paper--would be as awful as giving up hot showers. I bless both every day.

May. 07 2009 11:51 AM
B Burnham from Rockland County

I am 28 and I find that in this dime-a-pundit era, I find the paper more important than ever as it tends to screen out the emotional chaff (or at least restricts it to the editorial section), and it is subject to at least some standards of reliability.

May. 07 2009 11:51 AM

I would like to hear about the discussion about the destruction of the advertising business model now that technology is effectively blocking all advertising like adblockers

May. 07 2009 11:51 AM
rick from nyc



May. 07 2009 11:50 AM
jonathan from Brooklyn

Didn't the newspaper industry have a similar problem when faced with the advent of TV newscasts? Isn't there anything we can learn from how they survived this previous challenge?

May. 07 2009 11:50 AM
Al Fuentes from Manhattan

How does the free newspapers such as Metro, AM, Village Voice, etc. fare as possible business model?

May. 07 2009 11:47 AM
Nicole from Gowanus

The newspapers might need to die and evolve before they can survive. Why can't we expand organizations like Propublica for national/international and investigative journalism and have smaller dailies that are free because of ad sales.

May. 07 2009 11:47 AM
Nicole from Gowanus

The newspapers might need to die and evolve before they can survive. Why can't we expand organizations like Propublica for national/international and investigative journalism and have smaller dailies that are free because of ad sales.

May. 07 2009 11:47 AM
Paul from New York City

May I float a couple of ideas?

1. The daily print news*paper* bears, for those who have Web access, the same relationship to the news as weekly news magazines used to have to the news.

2. The New York Times is now a regional paper, again, for those who have Web access.

Every *national* English language newspaper now competes with the BBC online. And where does their funding come from? And how many reporters do they have?

May. 07 2009 11:46 AM
JT from Long Island

@Paulo from Paterson, NJ - Adapt or die? If there were an easy solution this wouldn't be an interesting topic of discussion. Everyone is trying to figure out what "adapt" means. Google's the only one making a lot of money here so they don't care.

May. 07 2009 11:45 AM

here is that coubert clip with newspaper's top lobbyist

May. 07 2009 11:44 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

News manufacturing, like the auto, financial services, and a few other industries, became bloated and simply have to downsize to a more appropriate, natural size. I remember back in the 1950s when TV only aired some 15-30 minutes of news copy a day! At that time it was considered a service rather than a profit-making center. The entire industry just has to accept that it's time to slim down and some of them have to think about retiring or getting into a different line of work. Just like other people.

May. 07 2009 11:44 AM
bernardo issel from brooklyn ny

Gawker's Ryan Tate had a good critique of David Simon's optimism of the role of traditional papers in covering city hall, etc.

Per Tate's blog post,

"I found [Simon's] argument odd, because as a newspaper reporter who spent a few years covering a town much like Baltimore — Oakland, California — I often found that bloggers were the only other writers in the room at certain city council committee meetings and at certain community events. They tended to be the sort of persistently-involved residentsnewspapermen often refer to as "gadflies" — deeply, obsessively concerned about issues large and infinitesimal in the communities where they lived. ... Collectively, these bloggers are doing just what Simon suggests: attending meetings, developing sources and holding government accountable every day. ... many of the writers are deeply invested residents, rather than the sort of superficially-engaged, careerist professional journalists portrayed so well by Simon in The Wire and all too common in American newsrooms."

May. 07 2009 11:44 AM

When will print news learn. Online, it has to be free and paid solely by advertising. That's what Google has always figured out and that's why they're so successful. Make a great product, offer it for free. Everyone will use it, and the ads will pay for it all.

May. 07 2009 11:43 AM
ken from Manhattan

Newspapers assert that they are essential to Democracy. Please don't let this unfounded assertion go unchallenged! The press was of no help whatsoever on the Iraq war despite their legions of reporters. They can go to all the Zoning Meetings they want, but *change* comes from citizens, not Newspaper Editors.

May. 07 2009 11:42 AM

ok, then it sounds like google's lobbyist are just better than the newspaper industry's lobbyist. (can't they do collectively what ap does, ie collect $ from google? or collect more $?)

btw did anybody see cobert interview the newspaper industry's lobbyist? funniest sad thing I've seen this yr.

May. 07 2009 11:40 AM

Hey Ed ,
Catholic Church is the biggest (non govt.) landowner in the country. It is tax exempt. If the Globe plays its cards right maybe it will get a rich new owner!

May. 07 2009 11:38 AM
Caitlin from Jersey City

Wouldn't legislating an independent press make it NOT independent?

May. 07 2009 11:37 AM
Edward from NJ

It's incredibly easy for a newspaper to stop Google from indexing their content. It's simply a matter of putting a file on their server that tells Google's web crawler to ignore it. Of course, then Google would send traffic to other newspapers. They can't have it both ways.

May. 07 2009 11:37 AM
Paulo from Paterson, NJ


Adapt or die!

May. 07 2009 11:36 AM
Allen from Troy

Two issues:
1) "The news" (for example, AP) license their content to Google. Yes, license - Google pays for it. And then complains that they're losing money because of Google. Sounds like AP and the papers don't know what they're talking about.

2) Papers like to talk about how they're better than "citizen journalists" (ie - bloggers and people who report on whats going on)... but seem to have totally forgotten that they ruined their own reputation with things like the Jason Blair incident.

May. 07 2009 11:35 AM
Ed from Larchmont, NY

A little off topic, but the Boston Globe revelled in attacking the Catholic Church in 2002, so did the New York Times. Now they're in trouble. Hmmm.

May. 07 2009 11:11 AM

(by hit I mean user of the news headline and/or content aggregated on

May. 07 2009 11:04 AM

wouldn't newspapers be saved rather than ruined if they simply charged google for each hit? it's like google not charging for its syndicated ads.

May. 07 2009 11:03 AM

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