Monday’s New York Times, as well as around 400 other newspapers and magazines, featured a full-page ad, its lettering yellow against a deep blue background: “More People Will Read A Newspaper Today Than Watched Yesterday’s Big Game.” In smaller lettering, the ad discussed newspapers’ “supersized” readership, their audiences’ reliance on the information they provide, and the journalism they produce—“the best journalism found anywhere,” as the ad had it.
The ad was sponsored by the Newspaper Project, a grassroots coalition of newspaper editors and executives—Randy Siegel, president and publisher of Parade Publications; Brian Tierney, CEO and publisher of Philadelphia Media Holdings; Donna Barrett, president and CEO of Community Newspaper Holdings; and Jay Smith, former president of Cox Newspapers—intended, essentially, to defend newspaper organizations against the pervasive pessimism about their future. “While we acknowledge the challenges facing the newspaper industry in today’s rapidly changing media world,” the Project’s Web site declares, “we reject the notion that newspapers—and the valuable content that newspaper journalists provide—have no future.”
CJR’s Megan Garber spoke with Randy Siegel to learn more about the project.
Megan Garber: How are you defining newspapers in the context of the campaign?
Randy Siegel: It’s really about newspapers both in print and, obviously, the newspaper Web sites. We’re using “newspaper” as an umbrella term for all the news and information that newspaper companies provide, both in print and digitally. We’re really looking at this both in terms of the print and the digital portfolios that newspaper companies will continue to build and evolve with.
You know, you get outside of New York, and in most cities and towns across America, all the good-quality journalism comes from the local newspapers. And in recent years we’ve seen the decimation of local television news, local radio news, etc. I enjoy bloggers’ work—I read a lot of blogs, myself—but this notion that bloggers will somehow fill the void if local newspapers were suddenly to disappear—we reject that out of hand. We just feel that that’s an overly simplistic solution, and some classic wishful thinking.
MG: So there’s something inherently valuable about the infrastructure of news organizations?
RS: Absolutely. It’s the infrastructure, it’s the professional training, it’s the ability to condense massive amounts of information into accessible prose for the reader and the online visitor. It’s the editing. I mean, this notion that you don’t need editors anymore is laughable. Editors make things accessible for readers and online users, and they help educate all of us about stories and issues that we otherwise might not see. I highly doubt that your favorite blogger, for example, is in a position to fly to Iraq and cover what’s going on there, or to fly to the far East and decipher our relationship with China as an economic superpower, or to go into City Hall and expose instances of municipal graft and corruption, or to get behind the scenes of a major sporting event and help people understand why a game turned out the way it did. I believe that, in journalism, you get what you pay for. And quality journalists will always have a role in our society. And as newspaper companies evolve, great journalism will now be more important than ever. Across multiple platforms.
MG: I think most of us would agree that quality journalism depends on good reporting. Do you see a distinction between, say, The New York Times and Talking Points Memo, or between the Times and other Web-only outlets that do good, original reporting?
RS: Absolutely. The New York Times creates some of the most marvelous content in the world, both in print and online. And I think that a lot of online aggregators exploit Times content for their own gain. I know that some of the online aggregators purportedly drive a lot of traffic to certain Web sites, but I don’t believe that newspaper companies are extracting maximum value from those aggregators, which sell millions of dollars of ads around the content created by hardworking journalists. And that’s one of the issues that I think newspaper companies are starting to, thankfully, reevaluate.
MG: How so?
RS: I know that Eric Schmidt at Google says that “all information wants to be free.” But it’s easy for the folks at Google to say that, when they’re making billions of dollars by selling ads around other people’s content. And the content of news organizations, in particular, which have to incur the costs of the journalists’ work, and of all the investment that goes into creating compelling journalism.