The explosion of readily available news and information on the web has, at least in part, eclipsed the long-held role of daily newspapers to deliver the news, but has yet to touch their unique contribution to the American democratic process: the ability to explore in depth highly complex subjects of public interest.
As a rule, the newspaper editors interviewed and surveyed for this report believe that no other medium has the ability to take a complicated, sophisticated, important issue and examine it in all its nuances.
One editor cited a package of stories in his own newspaper that day that explored a dispute over the hiring of minorities at a prestigious, publicly-funded downtown convention center construction project. The package included a story on the problems of recruiting minorities into construction trade apprentice programs and another on obstacles faced by contracting firms owned by African-Americans.
In a world where much of the new, fast-proliferating information available to the consumer stems from Internet sources that undergo little or no quality control, guarding the newspaper’s objectivity and credibility is considered crucial.
More than immediacy, editors said they believed these qualities were essential to the newspaper’s quest to remain relevant. Gage, the special projects editor at the Journal-World, speculated that if immediacy were to diminish as the most-valued quality for daily newspapers, they could eventually revert to late afternoon delivery. Such a development could potentially be a windfall, he says, because it would reduce the need to work unsocial hours and possibly draw more bright young people—who have traditionally been turned off by the hours— to the craft.
In the end, however, editors remain convinced the key to their survival is a good business model and strong journalism. As one editor interviewed for this named three basic ingredients needed “not just to survive, but thrive:” excellent journalism, strong investment to stay on the cutting edge of technology, and aggressive marketing of the product.
“If we do all those things, we’ll be fine—whether we’re 80% print and 20% web, 80% web and 20% print or 2% print and 98% web,” this editor said, though he asked that his comments be on background. “The profit margins may never be Gannett-like at 40-45% of revenue, but I think you can have a healthy business.”
Some editors predicted the future of newspapers will eventually be decided, not in print, but in a cyberspace fight for advertising between sites that provide entertainment and social networking on one side, and those that provide information and analysis on the other.
“There’s never been a greater need for good journalism,” said Miami Herald executive editor Gyllenhaal. “We’re in a global world and it’s complicated. What happens in Caracas really affects us here. But advertisers don’t care what gets them in front of people and if they all migrate to MySpace, Facebook or eBay and that weakens journalism to a point we can’t have 375 or 400 reporters on the street, then we won’t be able to deliver.”
Lawrence Journal-World editor Dolph C. Simons, Jr., put it in simpler terms: “I believe there’s a very strong place in our society for the printed word. It’s up to us to find out how best to utilize that opportunity. If we’re going to succeed, we have to drive with our brights on.”