National Press Club

It's a Rebuilding Time for Papers, Panel Says

October 27, 2008

SPOKANE – With the latest round of staff reductions, Gary Graham, the new editor of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, hopes he has hit “ground zero” and can start regrouping and rebuilding the newspaper staff, he told a National Press Club Centennial Forum here Thursday.

“We’re going to have to make some decisions on things we are no longer going to cover any more because we simply don’t have the staff,” said Graham, who was seeing 20 of his veteran news staff depart this week, leaving him with 80. “But the foundation of all that is still a journalistic mission where local news is our franchise. We will continue to do what we call watchdog journalism, investigative reporting, analysis and context.”

But the idea that more can be done with less just isn’t true, he said. “You have to do it differently.”

Graham was speaking at a forum on “The First Amendment, Freedom of the Press and the Future of Journalism” sponsored by the Club to mark our 100th anniversary.

With so many new sources of information available, news consumers have to be wary about who is supplying their news, said Ted McGregor, editor and publisher of the weekly Pacific Northwest Inlander.

“I think the hunger for information is at an all-time high,” McGregor said. “But not all sources of information are created equally. It is a lot more caveat emptor our there.”

A lot of bloggers simply regurgitate information they have found elsewhere, he said.

“The reader has to ask, where does the original story telling, or the original watchdog story of the original investigative piece come from?” McGregor said.

Jamie Tobias Neeley, who teaches journalism at Eastern Washington University, said students are flocking to communications departments in record numbers. She cited a University of Georgia study that showed that they were getting jobs when they graduate.

“With our students, when they graduate they are taking jobs that sometimes didn’t exist when they were freshmen. They didn’t even exist last year,” she said. “We had four students last year that went to work for a brand-new sports weekly. They’re just having a riot.”

But she said she was concerned about how these students would get their second jobs, how much job security they will find, and whether they can make enough to support a family.

“Those questions don’t seem to be dissuading journalism students right now,” she said. “But down the road, that is going to have a big impact on their careers.”

But John Caputo, director of the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, said he is worried that students are not seeking reliable news at all. He teaches at Gonzaga University in Spokane, and he said his students spend most of their time on information-seeking time on social networking sites.

“After 9/11, we said how come nobody told us these people don’t like us? Who are they? Where did they come from? How come journalists didn’t tell us that story?” he said. “Part of it is that we were watching television’s version of ‘Survival.’ We were watching all the things that took us away from knowing what was going on in the world. We are getting that way again.”