Career journalist confident newspapers will survive

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A veteran journalist and news manager told BYU communications students Thursday that the newspaper is not necessarily in danger of extinction, despite the rapidly changing reporting landscape.

Paul Steinle, who spent 13 months visiting newspapers in each of the 50 states to identify common threads that hold the industry together, explained that the shift towards online and multimedia journalism is simply a paradigm shift that media have seen several times before.

Journalist Paul Steinle speaks to communications students and faculty on Thursday. (Jennifer Ball)

“It is over simplistic to think that just because (the newspaper) has changed, it’s going to die,” Steinle said. “We all knew that radio was certainly going to die when television came around, but did it? Media doesn’t work like that.”

Steinle’s cross-country journey logged 31,000 miles on his car as he searched for a common purpose among journalists and editors of traditional newspapers. He estimates he interviewed 110 media professionals at length, and their motivations and journeys differed widely. So, too, did their audience’s expectations of them.

In the digital era, “many people do not understand who journalists are and what motivates them,” Steinle said. “The public at large needs more information education.”

Since 1995, Steinle said, traditional newspapers have become fewer and farther between. Craigslist has sapped classified advertising, and internet websites have siphoned display advertising. Print circulations and salaried reporting jobs have each fallen 40 percent, and profits have fallen as much as 25 percent.

The digitized 21st century has brought what Steinle calls “transformational newspapers:” internet-enabled, interactive, multi-platform information services that deliver news at all hours. Rather than being a death sentence for print journalism, though, this change offers a number of opportunities.

“Audience reach has expanded. The depth of coverage has expanded with the internet. And we have incremental revenues with pay walls, video ad sales, online ads, and direct sales,” Steinle said. “Reliable news is not going away.”

Although print circulation has declined, Steinle said, there is no reason to suppose that the readership will continue to fall.

“Circulation has leveled off,” he explained. “It’s not precipitous. No business is.”

One mystery that remains to be seen for the future of journalism of how highly a code of ethics will be valued by audiences of digital media.

“We know what the newspaper is,” Steinle said. “If you go to the Deseret News and ask them for their code of ethics, they could show it to you. Whereas with Gizmodo, if you ask them for their code of ethics, they would look at you like, ‘what’s that?’”

The digital world, he added, is a live-tweeting playground that is leaving the public unsure of whether the information they consume is valid.

“People need to realize that the information on the internet is only as good as the effort and research that went into it,” Steinle said. “Even The New York Times posts corrections for practically all of its stories. What about every guy on the street corner posting content from his iPhone?”

Steinle’s interviews with newspapers in each of the 50 states can be viewed on his organization’s website: http://whoneedsnewspapers.org.

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