Cover: Hans Haacke News(1968–2008) Exclusive interview:Inhotim curator Rodrigo Moura talks to artist Mauro Restiffe Dirt Sheet column:Janine Armin on TLN Dexter Sinister's 'The First/Last Newspaper (November 4–21, 2009)' Report: 'Fit to Print?: The newsroom reinvented', conversation at the New Museum between ‘The Last...’ columnist Adam Chadwick and web veteran Jason Fry 100 years ago...:'Los Angeles Herald' (Los Angeles, California) 1900-1911, December 8, 1910 Focus: Blu Dot's self-assembly office furniture for the ‘The Last Newspaper’ partner organizations The Next Newspaper (Profiling the organizations, projects, initiatives and individuals redefining ink-and-paper news): The Daily Focus: 'Do you love milk and honey?', Greg Barton on Emily Jacir's TLN work 'SEXY SEMITE' (2000-02) Picture Agent-Our singular picture agency: Simon Fujiwara Media Habits: Michalis Pichler 'Embrace the Ambiguity', ‘The Last Newspaper’ curators Richard Flood and Benjamin Godsill reflect on the project’s journey. Focus:'Reading the Reader', Greg Barton and Irina Chernyakova on TLN partner organisation the 'New City Reader' Exclusive interview: 'The Wires', Janine Armin talks to TLN artist Hans Haacke Cartoon: 'The Woods: The End' by Francesc Ruiz Advertising Department: Ester Partegàs
27 November 2010: Public gathered for the talk on the 4th floor's 'Peace Arena'.
On November 27, Latitudes organized a conversation at the New Museum between ‘Fit to Print’ filmmaker (and ‘The Last...’ columnist) Adam Chadwick, and Jason Fry, an expert in the challenges faced by newspapers in the digital world.
Jason Fry: I started at The Wall Street Journal in 1995 when they were a single free section and after thirteen years I had seen it become a full paper and go beyond its roots of being a financial paper to become a source of general news. It became a subscription site far ahead of anyone else. One reason why so many jobs are disappearing in newspapers now is that some top publishing executives do not understand the business they are in and are only slowly realizing that is suicide. They have become very confused between the mission of journalism and the business of journalism. The business is decaying, leaving the mission looking for new financial backing.
Jason Fry during the talk
Adam Chadwick: How did journalism come to this breaking point? It began in the early 1960s, starting with how television affected the newspaper industry as it became the media where most people got their information from. Newspapers started changing their priorities back then...
Adam Chadwick during the talk
JF: Newspapers were mostly family-owned operations, others were true public servants. Soon after some became owned by corporations and that changed the calculus for the business and how they made money. They were depending on performance and shareholders. Even in the 1990s newspapers were making a profit margin of 30% year after year, without really understanding the business they were in. Television has certainly created a star mentality amongst reporters which is not entirely working to the benefit of journalism. Newspapers have been historically successful because publishers essentially had a localized monopoly on printing and distribution. Retail stores would communicate their products by placing ads in a newspaper – the publishers owned distribution mechanisms. In the last ten to fifteen years that has changed, as advertising has moved to the internet – everything from furniture to job listings. Advertising was the business that funded journalism – the financial underpinnings have been knocked down.
AC: 80% of the content that is broadcast on National Public Radio comes from newspapers. It’s the same with CBS News – Russell Mitchell, for instance, has told me they are pulling content from The New York Times and The Washington Post. So the erosion of the newspaper is also hugely affecting the TV.
Public watching the trailer of 'Fit to print' screened at the beginning for the talk.
JF: Newspapers used to compete with whoever started a new one locally; now they try to compete with the entire world. There is way too much content out there. How many thousands of movie reviews can you find online of the latest Harry Potter movie? And how many do we actually need?
AC: Is the web an echo-chamber of news, particularly with search engine optimization and ‘content farms’ dragging traffic? Or, if you boil it down, is it all only coming from The New York Times or The Washington Post? What is being lost now that the business model is broken? Investigative reporting?
JF: I’m not worried about journalism, I am worried about newspapers. We cannot confuse the two. The web has been wonderful to open up voices and to demystify reporting while letting a lot more people use their own expertise. But yes, investigative journalism is missing and it takes a long time and it’s very expensive. If The New York Times wants to cover a story on the dodgy doings of an organization, they will continue doing it, even if the organization goes into battle with lawyers, they won’t be intimidated. But that won’t happen if you are a blogger or freelancer no matter how smart or committed you are. I wonder if that kind of reporting has to be done institutionally though.
The public gathered for the talk on the 4th floor's 'Peace Arena'.
AC: ProPublica is one of the only models, they are a non-profit for investigative reporting organisation with about thirty reporters and editors. [See The Last Post, page 9] They have deep pockets which enable them to pay competitive salaries. Other smaller examples are Investigative Voice from Baltimore led by Stephen Janis, who started it with Alan Forman, a former Baltimore Sun journalist. It focuses on crime and corruption in west Baltimore, which if you’ve seen The Wire you’ll know about. They don’t compete with the Baltimore Sun, as they cover stories they wouldn’t. They also operate thanks to donations but don’t know for how much longer they can continue working like this. How sustainable this model is, nobody knows. Even with grant organisations like the Knight Foundation, there is only so much money they can throw in. Carmen, what is your experience at The Trenton Times?
Carmen Cusido: I’m a full-time reporter now, we have five members in the staff – it used to be more than twenty. It does get tougher because we don’t have the resources to cover investigative stories. I have to pull out the resources on my own. I cover education, county news, and immigration news because I’m the only Spanish speaking reporter. When we were a larger organisation, we used to have lunch breaks and discuss things as a group, but now you really need to prioritise. It’s hugely difficult as you have to take work home with you and there are no boundaries with your private life; it’s a 24/7 job. Before you could go out and talk to people, get their trust and understand their perspective. Now I cannot even leave the desk, as I have to cover three stories and have to do everything over the telephone.
Carmen Cusido during the talk
Question: Do people really want hard news anymore? Do newspapers understand their readers?
JF: Take the recent health care discussion: a hugely complex issue to follow and one that matters to all of us. Newspapers would cover the most recent political victory, but never show the bones of the story. This isn’t easy stuff. To the shock of newspaper editors, a lot of people read Wikipedia to understand complex situations as you get a straight forward recitation of what’s going on. That’s a model newspapers haven’t done as they continue to follow a telegraph system for getting the news out. It’s not satisfying readers’ needs.
AC: Most people I’ve spoken to want the hard news, the meat and potatoes of good journalism. Readers have stopped trusting newspapers for various reasons, some felt they were not catering a certain demographic of people or literally because news organizations have removed the newspaper dispenser boxes from poorer communities, to reach out to richer ones that would potentially advertise with them.
Question from the audience: What is your view on paywalls?
JF: News organisations should realize they are competing with the web. The success of The Wall Street Journal’s paywall has been in that it is targeted mostly at business readers, yet The New York Times covers everything. You pay for something, therefore, you think it’s valuable. Paywalls are getting in trouble in two ways: the hassle of entering a password, finding a reliable payment method. It’s not very immediate. Secondly, in the way they are implemented. If you are seeing nothing of the content you are about to buy you’re taking a blind leap of faith in paying for something you are likely going to read only once.
AC: It’s not cheap to produce content for the iPad either. If you put up a paywall you are no longer part of the linking culture such as The Huffington Post.
IF: You cannot create a walled garden that nobody can get into. You have to tease readers and let them share. Question from the audience: Is hyper-local journalism the way to go? Or to be more brutal, what will ultimately save journalism?
AC: Paying reporters and establishing a sustainable business model. Does the non-profit model work? It does right now – but for how long?