Panel Nerds: Newspapers Might Be Dying, But The Future of Journalism Looks Bright


Who: Nicholas Lemann, Stephen B. Shepard, moderated by Myron Kandel
What: “More than Money with Myron Kandel: The Business of Money
Where: JCC of Manhattan
When: October 5, 2011
: Up

Are newspapers dead?

That’s the question Myron Kandel posed at the top of the discussion with two deans for journalism programs. The implication rested on dark days for the industry; but based on how Nicholas Lemann and Stephen B. Shepard responded to that and similar questions throughout the night, there’s certainly reason to be optimistic.

They didn’t deny that journalism has seen better days, with much still up in the air about how it’ll support itself in the future. However, they quickly denounced the notion that all hope is lost, and reassured the audience that the new skills that their students are learning could resurrect, reshape, and rescue struggling news organizations.

Shepard predicts that digital news will continue to go the way of charging for content and that it’ll prove profitable. Lehmann believes that  it’ll be a “blended product” that succeeds with both aggregation and some original reporting. And the metrics for success are changing, too. In the past, traffic was the key indicator of a site’s popularity. Now, though, engagement is becoming more important, as advertisers look for more value from their audiences. It has opened up opportunity for niche sites that have built-in target audiences, advises Shepard.

We used to rely on news anchors and editors to determine the biggest news of the day. Now, we each choose for ourselves, and have the abilities to deliver our selections to others. What hasn’t changed is that people still rely on those they trust to help curate the news. And since there are more media options now than ever, everyone can find and design his or her own diet. Although it might be time to begin worrying about fragmentation…

What They Said
“At this moment newspapers aren’t dead…don’t write the obituary yet.”
– Nicholas Lemann warns not to jump to conclusions

“People want to share, and that’s the most radical change.”
– Stephen B. Shepard points to social media as a gamechanger for journalism

“One of the things the Internet did was pick apart the newspaper bit by bit.”
– Nicholas Lemann says that have more sources to get the information and resources we used to find inside of newspapers pages

“Pre-primary season is a very bad time to judge political reporting.”
Stephen B. Shepard isn’t worried about the discourse right now

What We Thought

  • We don’t think that journalism deans would have spoken so fondly of the digital news game just a few years ago. Despite the economic hardships that the industry has endured, it seems that the hardest times are behind us.
  • Kandel and the audience were a bit more concerned about the future of news than the panelists were. The “good old days” of journalism might be a figment of people’s imaginations, as news outlets have always been forced to adapt to the times. More access to information has helped more than it’s hurt.
  • Lemann made a an intriguing point about how political reporters today have gotten “lazy” and have taken their cues from consultants  instead of the grassroots people who surround campaigns. Choosing to go the consultant route we could miss out on some of the best stories coming out of an election. Seeing more students hitting the round running would be a good thing.

Some audience behavior seems to repeat itself panel after panel. We’ll be updating a running list of “PANEL RULES!” that will help ensure that you are not the dweeb of the Panel Nerds.

Panel Nerds don’t like…Forced Eulogizers
During the panel, news came out that Apple’s recently-resigned CEO Steven Jobs had passed away. Some people found out via their blackberries during the event (what’s that say about the future of news delivery?). One woman shared the news with the panel and asked them for their first reactions to Jobs’s death. We were saddened, yes, but this wasn’t the venue to discuss Jobs. And the panel, before responding, made it clear that their feelings about Jobs – and about Apple – were separate from the issues at hand for the evening. Technology has made an impact on journalism and could be part of its future. And Jobs deserves to be praised for his role in making all of that possible. Still, those appreciations didn’t belong at this time and place.

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