National Press Club

Reporters Getting Burned with New Technology, Panelists Say

October 29, 2008 | By Gil Klein

COLUMBIA, Mo. – News organizations are burning out reporters by demanding that they use more and more different types of technology to tell their stories, leading journalists said at a National Press Club forum at the University of Missouri Monday.

Yet there is scant evidence that this new technology is bringing in enough revenue to save journalism jobs and support the news business, they said.

“I have been blogging for years,” said Tony Messenger, a state capital bureau correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have yet to have a discussion in my newsroom about why we’re blogging and to tie that somehow into the newspaper’s business model.”

He said he Twittered during a gubernatorial election debate, taking time from blogging and writing the next day’s newspaper story. Yet just 13 people were following his Twitter posts.

“I should be sitting down with editors and other reporters who are using this technology and discussing whether it worked for this situation or that situation,” he said. “And how can we save jobs in the newsroom if we do this?”

Messenger was speaking at one of the National Press Club’s forums on “The First Amendment, Freedom of the Press and the Future of Journalism” the Club is holding around the country to mark its 100th anniversary. At each forum, the Club gathers a panel of leading local journalists to talk about where the news business is going and how to protect its core values.

This forum was co-sponsored by the Missouri School of Journalism, which also is celebrating its 100th anniversary as the nation’s first academic journalism program.

Elaine Sciolino, the Paris correspondent for the New York Times, said she now is expected to post to the Web by noon, produce video for the Web, write for the Times-owned International Herald-Tribune, and still write a flawless story for the next day's Times.

“You don’t have a choice,” she said. “If you want to be a journalist today, you just have to work harder and more efficiently. You aim for perfection until your deadline, and then you aim for doneness. You just gut it out.”

The real danger for journalism, she said, is so many American news organizations are cutting back on foreign correspondents and international coverage. Few American correspondents are showing up, even for big stories.

“The decline in American newspapers is a major national security threat,” she said.

Jennifer Reeves, a Reynolds Institute Fellow who is studying new media, said many news organizations are embracing new technology because it is cool, not because it really delivers a better product.

“A lot of newsrooms need to take a breath and see if the markets need it and find a way to use it logically,” she said.

Charles Davis, director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and a Missouri professor, said he gets calls even from recent graduates who say they are giving up on their journalism jobs.

“It was do the daily, come back, blog, Twitter, whatever the technology of the day,” he said. “Work on the project for Sunday. Go back on the blog four more times before I leave. The job doing public relations for the school board looked a lot more attractive.”

With all of the cutbacks on senior staff, he said, he is getting a lot more calls at the National Freedom of Information Coalition from young reporters who don’t know how to get information.

“Five years ago I would have a fairly senior reporter on a story who sort of knew their way around (Freedom of Information) law and how to access information,” he said. “I am now dealing with kids. They are well meaning, idealistic and terribly aggressive kids, but they don’t know where to begin.”

Elizabeth Merrill, who left the Kansas City Star to write for, said ESPN is trying to provide all of the sports news that a major newspaper does. Still, she said, newspapers can provide the kind of in-depth local coverage that eludes a national organization like ESPN.

“There are going to be newspaper writers with institutional knowledge who are going to give people things that a national entity can’t,” she said. “I would like to think that they can co-exist.”