National Press Club

Newspapers Far From Dead But Looking to Shift Burden of Revenue, Panelists Say

October 6, 2009 | By Gil Klein | gilbert.klein@yahoo.com

David Hunke, publisher, USA Today; Anne Bagamery, senior editor, International Herald Tribune; host Marvin Kalb; Cynthia Tucker, columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Marcus Brauchli, executive editor, Washington Post

David Hunke, publisher, USA Today; Anne Bagamery, senior editor, International Herald Tribune; host Marvin Kalb; Cynthia Tucker, columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Marcus Brauchli, executive editor, Washington Post

Photo/Image: Michael Foley

Newspapers are still looking to “unlock the funding streams” that will keep vibrant journalism alive, but most of them still make money today, if not the profits they had once enjoyed, panelists told host Marvin Kalb on the latest edition of “The Kalb Report” Oct. 5.

“The Post will be here for a long time to come,” said Marcus Brauchli, executive editor of the Washington Post. “We serve readers over every platform that comes along. Our circulation has been stable over the last year or so.”

Even with all of the personnel cuts in the newsroom and the reduction in the news hole during the past couple of years, he said, the Post still has about the number of column inches of news it had in the early 1990s, and the staff is still twice the size it was during the Watergate era in the 1970s.

He said no one alternative will provide the money that news organizations need. But newspapers can develop a number of new revenue streams, he said. The Post has already created a profitable business distributing news over mobile phones, Brauchli said.

The burden of paying for news has to shift more from the advertiser to the consumer, said David Hunke, president and publisher of USA Today. For too long, news organizations have been giving away the news on the Internet, he said. Hunke predicted by early next year new models will emerge that will change who pays for the news.

Anne Bagamery, a senior editor at the International Herald Tribune, said her paper’s circulation is growing. “I have complete confidence we will be there in 15 or 20 years,” she said. The ITH is providing a positive cash flow to its parent company, the New York Times, she said.

But the panelists rejected the idea being put forward by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that the government should help underwrite the costs of newspapers. Hunke said the Justice Department should review the anti-trust restrictions on news organizations. But he worried that a government bailout would bring government controls on a free press.

Cynthia Tucker, political columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said many regional papers like hers are under terrific financial pressure, and some could fold. Finding the revenue to make up for the loss of classified advertising will be key, she said, but standard classified advertising is practically dead. “The last time I bought a car, I did it online,” she said. “I didn’t look in the newspaper.”

Tucker said the first people who may lose their access to newspapers will be those in rural areas who do not have high-speed Internet access. More and more regional newspapers are reluctant to truck the papers long distances to serve sparsely populated markets, she said.

Hunke, who had been CEO of the Detroit Media Partnership and publisher of the Detroit Free Press before assuming his USA Today Post, said the Detroit papers – the News and the Free Press -- are stabilizing after they were forced to curtail home delivery to three days a week last year.

“We had to make a decision in Detroit to survive,” he said. “We are hitting our circulation goals.”