News Lost/News Found
The news that matters, said Harvard’s Alex Jones, is still produced by newspapers, which have now lost half of their journalistic muscle. And while surviving papers still make money, "you cannot avoid damage if you cut that muscle away."
"We are losing the thriving news organizations that share a passion to cover the world in a fierce, independent way," agreed Charles M. Sennott, editor-in-chief of the Global Post, an online news service that grew out of the area of tension between a downturn in foreign coverage and the persistent need for international news.
Drastic changes in the media industry have also led to the loss of younger readers, the experts agreed. "Digital generations" have become compressed to just a few years, and readers are saturated by a glut of crisis news: "We have normalized the abnormal," said Ferial Haffajee, editor of the City Press in Johannesburg. "Our 43% unemployment rate shouldn’t always be on the front page."
"Losing public support is the biggest threat to press freedom," said Elmar Thevessen, of the ZDF state television in Germany, where the average viewer age is 61 and resistance to broadcast fees is growing. "Substance is becoming less and less important" in an increasingly complex and fragmented world where "drive-by-anchors" make us "feel informed when we aren’t really informed," he explained.
"Nobody can predict what the next step will be," Jones said, "but what I do know is that if there is no engine – no professional journalism – the world is going to be an even more dangerous place."
Social media are everywhere, but developing effective interfaces with traditional media still remains elusive. The digital divide must be overcome, experts said through crowdsourcing, citizen reporting and other tools that allow ordinary people to complement professional reporting, not replace it. "The media need to interact with the consumers," Hannes Ametsreiter, CEO of Telekom Austria, added.
"Social Media have surpassed pornography," said Errol Barnett, CNN anchorman and the panel’s moderator, acknowledging the increasing importance of new media outlets. "People are now more interested in playing with each other than with themselves," he added.
The panelists thus suggested journalists recognize the potential of new media platforms that could possibly lead to the democratization of news, engaging with the audience rather than seeing them as passive receptors.
As an example, Jeff Howe from Wired Magazine introduced the concept of crowdsourcing.
A different perspective was brought to the panel by Rajesh Kalra, editor-in-chief of the Times of India, who described his country’s unique situation, as their print and online sector is growing steadily. "Print is actually our sunrise sector," said Kalra.
"It used to be very difficult to reach people. Nowadays, there are various ways that people get their news," said Google’s Madhav Chinnappa. "I don’t think that anyone knows where we are going. It’s all about the people, the consumers." In today’s rapid changing media world, the philosophy is "adapt or die."