National Press Club

Going Digital Doesn't Pay the Bills, Journalists Say at NPC Forum

November 14, 2008 | By Gil Klein

NORMAN, Okla. – Ed Kelley, editor of the Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, said he is scrambling to move his news operation into online video as quickly as possible, even though the bulk of his organization's income still comes from advertising in the print newspaper.

“Two years ago, we didn’t think video was even on the horizon,” Kelley told an NPC forum co-sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Now, he said, the newspaper has a broadcast studio that would rival a television station and a dozen people working on the video side of the news business. News and sports reporters are being trained to shoot simple videos as they are reporting stories.

“We are real believers in this,” he told the Oklahoma students. “We expect you do to a lot of different things these days. Video is one of them. We expect you to blog. We expect you to report online. And we are creating job descriptions for everybody that look completely different than they were 18 years ago.”

Kelley, who does daily online Web video commentaries, said during election night he spent most of his time in the broadcast studio rather than in the print newsroom.

But the business is still funded by print advertising, he said, which is under terrible stress during the economic downturn as traditional newspaper advertisers – department stores, supermarkets and the automotive industry – are squeezed.

“Where do I get the $14 or $15 million to keep doing the kind of journalism that we want to do?” he asked, referring to the size of his news budget. “While we are experiencing record growth on our Web site -- we had record growth last month in video, and our election day and night last week was perhaps our biggest day ever -- we still don’t derive near enough revenue on our digital side to pay for this journalistic army that we employ.”

The print medium is still the best marketing source, he said.

“Most Web sites, particularly the start-ups, end up going out of business partly because they can’t market themselves,” he said. “Ink on paper, as old fashioned as it is, is still a great way of marketing what you’re trying to do. People will go from print to digital, but they won't go from digital to print.”

Kelley was speaking at one of the 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.

Kevin Perry, vice president and chief operating officer of Perry Broadcasting, said the company his father founded with the Black Chronicle newspaper has expanded into hip hop radio stations around Oklahoma and in Georgia.

The company, he said, is able to use the newspaper’s reporters to produce radio news.

“Our listeners are people who really need to be connected to the news,” Perry said.

When he asked for a show of hands of how many students read a daily newspaper outside of the college paper, few went up. But when Perry asked how many have MySpace and Facebook pages, nearly all hands went up.

“News is always going to be relevant,” he said. “But what we have to do as an industry is find a way to capture your mind. You are the future.”

David Stringer, publisher of the Norman Transcript, said the trouble for smaller newspapers is that boundaries have been erased. People in the most rural part of Oklahoma have easy access to the Oklahoma City newspaper, which will always have greater resources to do online video and digital journalism, he said.

The challenge, Stringer said, is to get the news out first.

“So many reporters say it’s not done yet. They want to write and rewrite and rewrite,” he said. “You have to be like Associated Press reporters or UPI reporters, where the story is never done. You put out the first lead, and you transmit. Then you rewrite, and you do a third write-through and a fourth write-through.”

Julie Jones, an Oklahoma journalism professor who specializes in new media, said she expects the next big thing will be video news on iPhones.

“It is delivery wherever anyone’s at, wherever they want it,” she said. “And it is visual. We are becoming a visual society. We understand visuals.”

Newspapers and television stations are deciding they are news organizations that produce news on any platform, Jones said. The challenge is to provide compelling information that will attract people, she said.

“We provide a watchdog function, credibility, a vibrancy,” she said. “We certainly have a level of quality story telling.”

But news organizations must have interactive platforms that make connections between people and content, data and ideas, Jones said, “not just give people a barrage of information, but give them the context in which they can understand that information for themselves.”