If I was a reporter covering breaking news and the Northern Kentucky Forum was my assignment, my editor would have fired me last Thursday. Between work and midterms and class assignments, my blog got neglected. But I’m back now.
I went to the Northern Kentucky Forum at NKU last Thursday evening, “News in the Information Age: What happens to democracy if the presses stop?” According to displaced journalist Dr. Sam Schulhofer-Wohl, now of Princeton University, several things happen: overall voter turnout decreases, incumbents are re-elected easier, fewer candidates run and candidates spend less on their campaigns.
However, his research wasn’t well received by the audience. One problem was with the narrow scope of the study.
Schulhofer-Wohl said he used information from the 2004 and 2006 elections as a baseline to compare with 2008 election data. Based on this information, Schulhofer-Wohl said there was less voter turnout in the suburbs, but added that they were not able to study every community. He also only used one election to study the effect of going to a one-newspaper town. Critics of the study agreed that in about 10 years, with a few more elections post the Post, the study would gain more credibility.
After Schulhofer-Wohl finished his opening comments, Rich Boehne, the CEO of The E. W. Scripps Company, Schulhofer-Wohl’s former employer, was immediately called out to defend his company’s decision to close the Post at the end of 2007.
After calling himself chum, the bait thrown out behind ships to attract the sharks, Boehne agreed with the 44 percent of the audience who said they are less informed after the Post’s closing, but added that “more than one thing can be true at the same time.”
As the second truth, Boehne cited the malady today’s newspapers face: running a financially successful newspaper while supporting enterprise reporting with decreased income.
“Since WW2, classified ads have fueled newspapers,” Boehne said. “The Internet killed that.”
Referring to how difficult it is to harness the power of the Internet, Dennis Hetzel, NKY.com manager for Enquirer Media, said, “The web it like trying to wrestle a rhino that is running like a cheetah.”
Despite the obviously negative financial affect the Internet has had on newspapers, none of the panelists seemed ready to condemn it.
Jacque Steinberg, a New York Times media reporter turned education blogger, said its “exciting to be in a job that didn’t exist 20 years ago.” He added that readers are better served with the niche reporting that new media, such as blogs, provide.
Hetzel cited the interaction that the Internet brings to readers. When Hetzel tried blogging on for size, he said a short, three-paragraph blog entry sparked more reader interaction than any 25-inch editorial he had written.
The final audience poll of the evening asked the participants what was their preferred source of local news. Nearly half the audience answered with newspapers and their Web sites, 25 percent said they use television news stations and their Web sites and 16 percent said they use online news sites. Only one percent said they use bloggers to get their news. However, the poll was not clear if the category included news organization-employed bloggers or just unaffiliated writers.
With that quirk about the poll addressed, the panelists agreed that the poll showed that readers were moving toward getting their information from multiple Web sources.
Hetzel stressed the need for newspapers to “unshackle from one platform” and use multiple methods to tell a story.
Steinberg said he still likes to think that the news is based on good, shoe-leather reporting. Despite how someone decides to tell the story, Steinberg said the media “will still rise or fall based on content.”
To view Schulhofer-Wohl’s study in its entirety, click here.