National Press Club

News Execs Cautiously Optimistic About Industry Future

March 26, 2009 | By Gil Klein

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Despite doom and gloom about the financial condition of the news business, some of the nation’s leading journalism executives said they are cautiously optimistic about the future.

“Our profession is going to go through enormous growth after we get through this valley,” Tom Curley, president of the Associated Press, said at the Kalb Report Monday evening at the Club. But the next couple of years are going to be tough, he said.

Curley predicted newspapers would be around for decades. Yet, newspaper advertising is disappearing, he told host Marvin Kalb, so more revenue will have to be raised from readers.

The demand for reliable news is growing, not shrinking, he said. Wherever there is a gap in news coverage, some entrepreneurial organization is going to fill it. He predicted announcements in the next few weeks of private capital underwriting new online journalism enterprises.

CNN President Jon Klein said CNN has been able to capture a dominant position on the Internet as well as becoming a trusted source of news on television. Combining the two puts it in a strong position when the economy recovers, he said.

He agreed that private equity interests are seeing opportunities with news, and he advised students looking for their first jobs to seek start-up news organizations.

Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Knight Foundation, said declining journalism revenues are leaving gaps in coverage. For the first time, he said, the industry is not structuring news in a way that supports democracy. News operations are abandoning coverage of city halls, county commissions and state governments, undermining their role of “community bonding,” he said.

At the same time, Ibarguen noted a “psychological shift” in the public from being a news consumer to a news user. “It used to be an I-write-and-you-read system,” he said. “In the next generation, the consumer expects to participate in the discussion and to use it in some way.”

"We should think about news as a utility," he said. "You pay the light bill, you pay the cable bill. Maybe you pay a news bill. I don't know. But we ought to have all of these things on the table and stop trying to figure out how do we get back to 1970?

National Public Radio President Vivian Schiller said the NPR audience is growing and with it the number of members pledging financial support. But NPR is suffering from a decline in corporate sponsorship and foundation grants in the recession. “We think the investment will come back. But we have to rethink sponsorships,” she said.

Younger people are not listening to NPR at home like their parents do, she said, but the people getting their NPR news from podcasts are younger and their numbers are growing.