This is Bill Densmore of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute. What follows is rough, contemporaneous notes of today's U.S. Federal Trade Commission workshop: "From Town Crier to Blogggers: How Will journalism Survive the Internet Age," held Dec. 1-2, 2009, in Washington, D.C., at the FTC's 601 New Jersey Avenue offices. Of course we've tried to provide accurate quotes and summaries. But the FTC has stenographers recording all of the testimony and that should be your definitive source. The home page for this coverage is http://www.newshare.com/wiki/index.php/ftc
- http://twitter.com/ftcnews (for Twitter feed)
- Twitter hash tag: #ftcnews
- Reynolds Institute slide deck (PDF)
It's just past 9 a.m. I'd guess there are between 150 and 200 people in a wide conference room with two large screens and a hearing table in the middle. The FTC opens by playing a short video produced by Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media overviewing changes in the media ecosystems.
In the front row waiting to speak is News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch. Arianna Huffington is also present and speaking later this morning.
Now FTC Commission John Liebowitz steps to the podium to welcome us. He describes "news journalism" as vital to a functioning democracy. He says the experiments in news gathering "aren't yet fully apparent or fully sustainable in a broad sense" and so it isn't clear whether these experiments are evidence of "creative destruction, or just destruction."
Liebowitz says there is webcasting and "Twittering" of today's event underway and an overflow crowd in a remote building in Washington.
Liebowitz, who notes his wife works at The Washington Post, noted is sense of shock at walking into the Los Angeles Times newsroom and seeing rows and rows of empty desks. In 2005, estimates are that American newspaper newsrooms will have 25 percent fewer people than they do today.
"The Internet is dramatically reducing advertising revenue for news organizations," he says, and yet: "We still need journalists to be watchdogs ... but they can't keep producing the news if they are not paid for their work." He says citizens have never paid the full costs of news. Nor do citizens in other democracies.
"Our history clearly reflects that news is a public good," says Liebowitz. He says speakers over two days will disagree on many things, but probably not on the importance of news to a democracy. He says the FTC's congressionally mandated policy-studying function covers issues of competition and consumer protection and the state of the news and the Internet involve both of those issues.
"My own sense is that we need to udnerstand these changes to journalism much better than we do today before we can consider any changes or legislation.... but we should be able to take action to preserve the news that is necessary to a democracy."
Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief, ProPublica
Now speaking: Paul Steiger, the editor-in-chief of the non-profit, philanthropy-funded ProPublica, a New York-based watchdog journalism organization. He summarizes their operation -- over 16 months, investigative pieces run in partnership with more than 40 news organizations. But he says for organizations like his, "it will be years before they will make up for the losses of the last year or two" in the mainstream media. With dozens of reporters, ProPublica is the largest investigative-reporting organization in the nation, which has a range and persistence in its work. But he says that's not enough.
"The processing of finding and communicating news as we have known it may no longer require newspapers ... but it still will require reporters ... to probe for the carefully contrived hoax," says Steiger. Why are professional journalists needed, asks Steiger rhetorically?
-- Bloggers can ill afford to defend a libel case -- Complicated databases need to be built
They got their tax exemption in five months. He has received $2.3 million in commitments from donors beyond their original donor. Fund-raising is their beiggest challenge. Taking the non-proift route for journalism is "creating a new class of cultural institution in this country," Steiger says. He call's it a start with promise.
Rick Edmonds, the Poynter Institute
Edmonds is now presenting an overview of the industry's financials status. He says newspapers are spending $1 billion less on news going into 2010 than they were three years ago. "We really don't know what investigations, insights and basic coverage simply is not going on and won't."
-- Science coverage -- Suburban coverage by metropolitan newspapers
"I see the current state as discouraging but not hopeless," says Edmonds. He says newspapers have been raising subscription rates and have not lost many readers. He thinks getting revenue from news aggregators is a distinct possibility and encourages people to listen to Murdoch, who is next to speak. However, he says the extent of the advertising recovery is suspect.
"We need more newspapers like the New York Times and the Financial Times, which cost two dollars, but deliver two dollars worth of value," says Edmonds.