Prognosis for journalism: A long and healthy life—but online?

Prognosis for journalism: A long and healthy life—but online?



The newspaper editor used to be the gatekeeper, essentially controlling the flow of information within a certain geographic area, deciding what information went into the pages, and what did not. Those days are long over, thanks to the information superhighway—and journalism will never be the same, said Kyle Poplin, editor of an Illinois newspaper, Bluffton Today, and on sabbatical as Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. At a presentation on the future of journalism at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, Poplin was joined by Wayne Drehs, an Emmy award-winning journalist with espn.com, and Franklin Cater, a senior producer for Michigan National Public Radio, in a discussion that ranged from the sobering to the hopeful. Poplin didn’t exactly condemn the printed paper, but his tone was graven. Drehs, conversely, seemed more optimistic, scoffing at the thought that journalism is dying, dead or at least outdated. “Journalism isn’t dead,” he said. “People want stories, and as long as that is alive, they’ll need journalists.” Drehs described himself more as a storyteller than a journalist, saying it was his job to make the stories people wanted to read readable. The key to success in the evolving world of journalism, he said, was what so many printed newspapers inevitably lacked: the ability to adapt to an Internet readership. Formatting, design, and use of multiple media were all techniques he was required to master in order to keep his audience interested. It was not enough to just offer the news in a straightforward manner, he said. Cater addressed successful adaptations implemented in online media. As an example, he showed the NPR website formatted more like a social-networking community than the typical news site, and, as a tribute to its roots in radio, most stories and blogs incorporate audio elements. Furthermore, Cater said, the website includes numerous social opportunities between its users and the producers. There are discussion channels, an option to comment on most articles, and user forums. Close collaboration with its listener-base has always been the key to public radio’s success, and the Internet only seems to make that easier than it had been before. In other words, journalism’s gatekeepers—including the newspaper editors—are moving online in the fast-changing world of covering the news.

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