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Ink-based journalists and bloggers face off over future of news
Scripps Howard News Service


December 02, 2009
Wednesday AM

WASHINGTON - Ink-based journalists clashed and conferred with bloggers and electronic "news aggregators" in free-wheeling discussions before the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday on how watchdog journalism can survive the Internet age.

"Good journalism is not free," declared Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of News Corp., which owns the Wall Street Journal and FOX News, referring to Web site editors who repackage investigative news stories first reported by traditional media outlets. "This is not fair use. It is theft. This is untenable. There is no such thing as a free news story. We are going to be sure that we get a fair price."

While many in the news industry want tighter standards on when their stories can be used by others online, others attending the FTC's conference on journalism's future warned against action that could threaten freedom of speech or ignore the public's new expectations on what news should cost.

"Get real, you guys. The world has changed," retorted Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Web site. "The digital superhighway is a busy place. There inevitably is going to be some roadkill along the way."

One undertone of the conference was whether federal action -- such as new legal definitions of "fair use" of another media organization's news stories or relaxed standards of who may own newspapers and broadcast radio and television stations in the same community -- is needed to save America's troubled newspapers.

"Journalism, at least in the traditional sense, is now in trouble," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said at the opening of the conference. "We are living through a time of extraordinary change in which the bottom seems to be falling out of the news business."

Leibowitz noted that the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press recently has estimated that advertising revenue for newspapers has fallen 23 percent from 2006 to 2008. Next year, typical newsrooms will have about 25 percent fewer writers, researchers and editors than just a decade earlier, Pew also estimates.

Many called on the traditional news businesses to become more sophisticated in online advertising and emerging markets with digital mobile devices.

"We are trying to sell advertising in an atmosphere of chaos," said Mark Contreras, senior vice president for newspapers at E.W. Scripps Co. "We are 15 years into the Internet, but we don't have an agreed-upon standard on what is a unique visitor."

Scripps has signed a deal with Amazon to distribute news across its Kindle electronic reader, one of dozens of deals traditional news organizations are making with new technologies.

"We are viewing this as not something that will supplant lost revenue but as an ancillary source of revenue," Contreras said. "We need to preserve trained, reasonably well-paid professionals who know how to do investigative journalism."

Several media experts disputed Murdoch's suggestion that online readers are willing to pay for news, a model that has had some success for his business-oriented Wall Street Journal.

"We believe the issue of paying for content online, well, that genie is already out of the bottle," said Nina Link, president of Magazine Publishers of America. "But when we look at the mobile experience, that's where we see paying for content and new revenue models."

Many suggested that the federal government should ensure that investigative journalism -- through nonprofit consortiums like ProPublica or local ventures like The Voice of San Diego and Texas Tribune -- survives. That means embracing new technologies.

"We are in the newspaper business, not the dead tree business," said Murdoch.


E-mail Thomas Hargrove at hargrovet(at)
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