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Apr 16, 2008

Future of journalism series: Jonathan Landman - The New York Times

Future of journalism series: Jonathan Landman - The New York Times

Posted by Jean Yves Chainon on April 15, 2008 at 8:52 AM
The Editors Weblog is running a series of exclusive interviews about the future of journalism with top editors at leading newspapers around the world. Here is the latest installment with Jonathan Landman, deputy Managing Editor of The New York Times in the US.

The list of upcoming interviews will be updated as they are published (you can also search for all of them by clicking the "future of journalism series" tag at the bottom). Among the other titles that have been asked to participate in these interviews are:

- The New York Times - Jonathan Landman (US)
S3 - Jonathan Landman.jpg- Financial Times (UK)
- Guardian (UK)
Washington Post - Jim Brady (US)
Globe & Mail - Ed Greenspon (Canada)
- The Times (UK)
- The Economist (UK)
Gazeta Wyborcza - Jaroslaw Kurski(Poland)
- Le Monde (France)
- Die Welt (Germany)
The Hindustan Times - Pankaj Paul (India)
- Asahi Shimbun (Japan)
- JoongAng Ilbo (South Korea)
The Age / Fairfax - Mike van Niekerk (Australia)
The Nation - Pana Janviroj (Thailand)
Punch (Nigeria)
- El Tiempo (Colombia)
- Clarin (Argentina)
Gulf News - Abdul Hamid Ahmad (UAE)

Questions: "News, journalism, newspapers: same past, different futures?"

1 -      How long do you think you will define your company as a newspaper company or a print company?

We're a news and information company, not just a newspaper or print company. We own newspapers, obviously, and they remain extremely important. But we also own Web sites, not onlywww.nytimes.com but also www.about.com and www.boston.comand others. The Web sites are growing smartly. They are also contributing a steadily increasing share of the company's revenue -- 11 percent at the end of 2007.

 2 -    At this year's World Economic Forum in Davos, a panel of futurists claimed that print newspapers wouldn't exist by 2014. To what extent do you agree with this?

I doubt it. Big U.S. papers like The New York TimesThe Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal still have a lot of loyal readers who like the feel and experience of a newspaper. I imagine newspapers will survive until the perfect electronic substitute comes along and combines the portability and readability of a newspaper with the connectivity and multimedia capabilities of the Web. 
When will that happen? Place your bets.
3 -     In journalism's multi-centennial history, do you view the emergence of digital journalism as part of the continuity, or as a complete breakaway with previous forms of journalism?

Both. Digital journalism combines brand-new things with time-tested old ones. The most pronounced change is in the realm of reader interaction -- technology has made it possible for journalists, outside experts and other readers to talk to each other, to collaborate on news-gathering and analysis, to fact-check and to distribute journalism in new ways. It has pulled the newspaper package apart, allowing people to acquire and consume their journalism one piece at a time or to customize it to fit their needs. It has altered the journalist's relationship with sources and introduced new visual forms like the interactive graphic. It has picked up the journalistic pace.

Those are big changes. Still, the things that haven't changed are just as important as the things that have. Good journalists must still know their subjects. Ambitious and resourceful reporting are as essential to good news video as they are to good news writing. News judgment -- shorthand for a complicated, unscientific and very human professional assessment of what's most important, interesting, surprising, funny, educational and otherwise worth knowing about -- retains its value. 

4 -       Do you believe in the increasingly active role of the user in the news process, and is it a threat or an opportunity for professional journalists?

An opportunity. See above. For us, figuring out how to mobilize our sophisticated, curious and well-informed audience in constructive ways is both a challenge and a high priority.
5 -       Do you consider the Golden Age of investigative journalism is already past, or just beginning?

There's no doubt that financial pressures have driven many newspapers to cut back on investigative work. But that is distinctly not the case at The New York Times. Here are (also herehere,here and here) just a few important examples to illustrate the point.

The decline of investigative reporting at newspapers can't be a plus for democracy. On the other hand, the Internet has made public records and other documents much easier to find, expose and examine. It has made it easier for fine independent journalists like Joshua Micah Marshall to find an audience for excellent investigative work that would otherwise not gain wide public attention. And it has made it easier for whistleblowers and others to find and reinforce each other.
In those ways it has expanded opportunities for professional journalists to work with other people to expose wrongdoing and explore important issues. I'd say this form of collaborative investigative journalism is still young and has much potential.

6 -       Can journalism survive newspapers? (And maybe can newspapers survive journalism?)

Commentators and prognosticators have been predicting the imminent demise of newspapers for at least 15 years. A famous example: In 1993 in Wired MagazineMichael Crichton wrote: "To my mind, it is likely that what we now understand as the mass media will be gone within 10 years. Vanished, without a trace." The New York Times, he said, will be the GM or IBM of the 1990's, "the next great American institution to find itself obsolete and outdated while obstinately refusing to change."

Nine years later, the media critic of SlateJack Shafer, noted that Crichton had been wrong and took a stab at explaining why. His concluding paragraphs: 
"As the wise man once said, if you're going to make predictions, make a lot of them. Folks will forget your misses and remember your hits. In that spirit, Crichton writes, 'Sooner or later a lot of people are going to say, "You know what? An editor is worth the money. Because time is money, and my time is wasted combing through this junk. I'll pay someone to do it." And it'll happen.'

"To my ears, though, that still sounds like the New York Times."
Ed: The Internet drastically changed the newspaper business.
  • At 60% for print and mail, paper is dead. (The sooner the better for the sake of the green earth.)
  • Newspapers lost the oligopoly control on local circulation. Compete online or die.
  • 100% of the national news; and 50% of the business, sports, and lifestyle news that is not locally focused is subject to global competition.
Paper have lost the cost, circulation, and convenient news advantages. Stop blame shifting amateur blogs - who are the most passionate readers. Learn to blog, scratch, and claw to retain the trust of local readers and advertisers. 

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