'Transforming Journalism: The State of the News Media' Brings Top Speakers

March 29, 2010

Journalism will survive but people will get their news from an ever-increasing number of diverse online sources aimed at widely segmented audiences, leaders in old and new journalism told a packed audience at the School of Media and Public Affairs at the "Transforming Journalism: State of the News Media" event on March 29.

Panelists Tom Rosenstiel, Jim Brady, and Tina Brown discuss the news media with SMPA Director Frank Sesno

"We have reached a point where the notion that most people will go to a primary source for their news is obsolete," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, who along with The Newseum co-sponsored the event.

"What we new think of as journalism is breaking up into very different kinds of storytelling," he said.

The event was named for and timed to coincide with recent release of the annual Pew report on the "The State of the News Media 2010" found at http://www.journalism.org.

Rosenstiel said the most recent economic trends for mainstream journalism are grim, citing a 24 percent decline in advertising revenue in 2009. That means that news organizations are spending much less money on good journalism.

"Reportorial journalism is shrinking," he said, even as the amount of opinion writing online is increasing.

Besides Rosenstiel, other speakers at the event held in the Jack Morton Auditorium were Jim Brady, president of Digital Strategy at Albritton Communications; Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief of USA Today; Tina Brown, Editor of the Daily Beast; Antoine Sanfuentes, Deputy Bureau Chief of NBC News in Washington and Charles Sennott, Executive Editor of GlobalPost.

All of them are innovators and decision makers looking for new ways of telling stories in an uncertain world where traditional news organizations are threatened with extinction.

Frank Sesno, the director of SMPA and moderator for the program, posed a question for newspaper editors and broadcast news executives at a time of tumultuous changes in journalism.

"Can legacy media adapt so that legacy does not mean extinct?" he said.

Tina Brown, former editor of the New Yorker Magazine and founder of the lively Daily Beast website, said to compete in a world with unlimited competition for people's time, said, "You have to become an impresario, you have to be an entertainer...It's all about making people pay attention."

To do that, Brown said she scours the world looking for lively writers who have something interesting to say about whatever is in the news.

Keynote speaker Vivian Schiller, President and CEO of National Public Radio (NPR), told students in the audience that despite the grim economic news forcing layoffs by news organizations, young people will provide the creativity that revives journalism.

"You will be the ones to reinvent the news business," she said.

Schiller said NPR has been able to maintain strong loyalty among its increasing numbers of listeners because they feel a local connection with NPR affiliate stations all around the country.

"In many towns, the NPR affiliate is the only local news organization," she said.

Sennott, one of the founders of a news website with 70 foreign correspondents in 50 countries, said Global Post is attempting to defeat the notion that Americans are no longer interested in reading stories from abroad.

Brady, who is about to launch a brand new local reporting website covering the Washington area, said, he believes it will succeed because, unlike the Washington Post, it is aimed solely at an online readership.

"You can't be all things to all people," he said. With a staff of 35 to 40 reporters Brady, said, "We are going to pick our spots," in deciding which stories to cover.

"In five years," he said, "every city in the country will have a site like this one."

The new as yet unnamed news site will be integrated with Channel 8, a strictly local all news TV station also owned by Albritton Communications, and will use the combined power of the two organizations to cover big stories around the capital starting in May.

In addition, Brady said, his new online organization will establish partnerships with dozens of local websites with information of interest to residents of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

Page, a veteran Washington political reporter, said while USA Today is considered a legacy media organization, it has been innovating in many different ways including the creation of online communities and projecting its news on screens in elevators.

She said the massive layoffs of experienced reporters over several years have opened jobs for young people.

"It has really cleared the decks for those who are coming on now," she said.

Sanfuentes, the NBC executive, said TV news networks are now able to tell stories quickly because of the amazing new technologies that allow reporters to cover stories and transmit images great distances.

- Written by Professor Michael Shanahan

Tom Rosenstiel



Tina Brown


Jim Brady


Charlie Sennott


Antoine Sanfuentes


Susan Page


Vivian Schiller


Professor Robert Entman