National Press Club

Panelists See Need for New Products, Models in Journalism

October 31, 2008 | By Gil Klein

DES MOINES, Iowa – New thinking in how to attract advertisers will be essential to regenerating the income necessary to keep quality journalism alive, leading news executives said at a National Press Club forum at Drake University Wednesday.

“The business model is clearly broken,” said Laura Hollingsworth, publisher of the Des Moines Register, part of the Gannett Co. that announced this week another 10 percent cut in personnel.

Supporting quality reporting and investigative projects is the essential piece of what the company is doing, she said, but it is only one piece.

The vision for the Register as a regional information center is knowing the household, knowing the players in it, and layering products and services that are both digital and print,” Hollingsworth said.

She said she is seeing a split between news and advertising is not following news to the Internet. Advertisers want to reach people where they are active, through information that connects to their lifestyles, she said. But the company cannot give up its core responsibility in civic engagement and watchdog journalism.

“I am protecting with my life all I can right now the number and the depth of investigative reporting that the Des Moines Register is built upon and is our mission and value,” she said.

Hollingsworth was speaking at one of the Club’s national forums on “The First Amendment, Freedom of the Press and the Future of Journalism.”

This forum was co-sponsored by Drake University’s journalism program; all are underweritten by Aviva USA.

Michael Gartner, who had been president of NBC News as well as a Pulitizer Prize-winning print editor, publisher and columnist, said the newspaper industry should take a lesson from what happened to television news when cable and satellite television challenged the three major networks.

“I lived through all of this 25 years ago at NBC,” he said. “It was the same dire threat that these folks are facing now. You lost exclusivity, you lost your immediacy, and you lost a big chunk of your audience and a big chunk of your revenue.”

Television networks fought back by embracing cable television, he said. ABC has ESPN, and NBC has MSNBC and CNBC and Bravo and Oxygen and Lifetime. Television networks found ways to cooperate with each other on routine news to free up more money for competitive journalism.

“I understand the short-term panic,” he said, “but I don’t understand the long-term dismay and distress.”

Dave Busiek, who is news director at KCCI-TV and a past chairman of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said his station is re-examining everything it does as it faces revenue shortfalls. Across the country, he said, television newsrooms are embracing the Web and new technology for delivering news to people where they are.

But that still doesn’t answer the question of where the money comes from to pay for it, he said.

“Any newsroom needs a certain number of feet on the street to do original reporting,” he said. “I don’t think there is one right answer. All I know is that if we are not out on the leading edge of trying some of these new ideas and figuring out what works and what doesn’t, we’re not going to be around very long.”

Steve Buttry, the editor of the Gazette of Cedar Rapids and GazetteOnline, said news organizations have to look at Web advertising differently.

“Think of how much of the content of a traditional newspaper is related to someone’s decision to buy something,” he said.

A person reading a bridal announcement will want to buy a gift or two. If it’s online, a person could click on the bridal announcement and be connected to the bridal registry and can buy the gifts right there. The same is true in sports, he said. Read about a game and click on it and buy the tickets.

“You can see that if we start becoming the community marketplace where you actually conduct the transaction, that is so much more valuable to the advertiser than just the advertising model of selling eyeballs,” he said. “That’s where we need to go.”