Several prominent journalists described the problems faced by traditional newspapers in the digital age and touched on possible solutions at a panel discussion at the Barker Center for the Humanities last night.
The five panelists—affiliates of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard who were introduced as a “board of innovators” by the host Melissa Ludtke—gathered at the inaugural event of the Harvard Writers at Work Lecture Series to discuss the challenges of financing print journalism in an era when most people get their news online or through broadcast media.
Robert H. Giles, Curator of the Nieman Foundation, said that falling circulation rates indicate a growing interest in free news among the public, and as a result, waves of layoffs have hit many newspapers across the country.
“What [the public is] interested in is innovation in new technologies,” Giles said, adding that newspapers should consider developing differentiated “online ventures” to attract new investors with specialized interests.
While “the institution of the newspaper” deserves to be preserved in some form, said Alex S. Jones, Director of Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy, it needs to find a “sweet spot” that balances circulation and advertising with an online presence featuring content that engages its readership.
“We’ve got to find a way to work with the revenue that we can generate,” Jones said.
Charles M. Sennott, a co-founder of GlobalPost—an online news organization specializing in international reporting—suggested lowering reporters’ salaries in exchange for giving them more freedom to pursue work outside the newspaper, such as writing books or screenplays.
If journalists are given the opportunity to do what they enjoy, Sennott said, news organizations will be more likely to publish articles that “enlighten and inform and entertain.”
Students who attended the lecture said they would have preferred hearing the panel propose more answers to the difficulties facing print media, rather than dwelling on the problems themselves.
Lakeisha N. Landrum, a journalism student at the Harvard Extension School, said she hoped for future events to focus on more specific solutions, rather than the different perspectives and nuances of the issues.
“We know the old model is broken,” she said. “The people that come up with the solutions will be the people that are going to be influential in our generation.”