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The Digital Frontier of Journalism


The venerable newspaper still has it's place. Yet more people are getting their news not on paper, but in digits - on their computer, mobile phone or other devices. Phil Alexiou explores how putting news in the palm of your hand is changing an entire industry.

America's newspapers are shrinking or going out of business. The 150 year old Rocky Mountain News has completely shut down. In print for 146 years, the Seattle Post Intelligencer has stopped the presses, hoping to survive online alone. The century old Christian Science Monitor has done likewise.

Even newsprint doesn't equal success. In Detroit, former fierce rivals the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press have joined together in a "Joint Operating Agreement", only to see both their circulations shrink. But at least that city has a paper; there's talk that San Francisco may become the largest city in America without a daily newspaper.

As newspapers struggle to adapt to a rapidly changing media landscape, U.S. research indicates the Internet has become a more popular news platform than newspapers and radio. And that's bad news for print news.


"Revenues are nonexistent," says Teamsters Local 853 president Rome Aloise, which represents workers who print and deliver the papers. "And they're shrinking to the point that you could almost work for free and maybe not make a newspaper profitable."

At just 38 years old, the Washington Times is a relative youngster on the newspaper scene. But it's not immune to the pressures, as recent events demonstrate.

Earlier this year, Times president and publisher Jonathan Slevin announced budget cuts of 40 percent - a job he was brought in to perform. Numerous staff positions were eliminated. Speaking with VOA, Slevin blamed his newspaper's woes on the Internet.

"The principle underlying affect of the digital age on journalism is that beneath the surface there's less revenue for traditional journalism because that revenue is being split and splintered through many different categories," he said. "And so, when an advertiser is looking on where to advertise it's no longer will I have, you know, two or three choices. Advertisers have many choices."

Underscoring those pressures, in the short time between VOA's interview and publication, Slevin himself was let go. The man brought in to eliminate jobs had his own job eliminated.

With smartphones, iPads, camera phones, Youtube and Google, seemingly anyone can be a reporter; or as some now term, a so-called 'citizen journalist'.

Jan Schaffer is the head of J-Lab, American University's Institute for Interactive Journalism. 'Citizen journalists' can't replace professionals she says - but they can offer something different.

"What they're doing is providing useful news and information but not necessarily the same sorts of news and information journalists normally provide. That doesn't mean it has no value. It has a lot of value, its just a different kind of value."

Jim Gaines is the former editor of Time magazine and founder of a digital publishing company, StoryRiver Media.

"Print companies that I'm aware of, Time Inc, Conde Nast, Washington Post, New York Times, all of them are making experiments," says Gaines. "None of them are thinking in new ways about this new medium. They're treating the Internet as if it's a new distribution channel. When what it is is a new medium."

At Brunner Advertising, Shaun Quigley says 2010 already shows this as being the first year that more advertising money is being spent online than for print.

"I think the newspaper industry and online versions are in trouble, again, because they cannot articulate a clear value to those subscribers. They can get better information from other places who do it better and faster."

Newspapers clearly face a challenging road. But such roads can present opportunities as well as pitfalls. Says J-Lab's Jan Shaffer, "I think gaps will be filled and eventually all of these independent media entities will network to form what will probably be a better, more rounded news report."

Whatever the road ahead is for newspapers and journalism as a whole, Jan Schaffer says one thing will not change - people in free societies will get the news and information they need - from somewhere.

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