Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Troubling times

By Ronnie Turner

Paul Pohlman has seen a lot of changes in the newspaper business during his 20 years at the Poynter Institute.

But for Pohlman, the changes occurring today are far more radical and troubling than any he’s seen, especially when it comes to serving the public’s best interests.

“The thing that I’m most saddened about is that many, many journalists are leaving the business and going into other fields,” said Pohlman, a member of Poynter’s senior faculty and an adviser to president Karen Dunlap. “There are fewer journalists to do enterprise stories and investigative (reporting) to inform the public. The public won’t be as well served.”

With advertising revenue decreasing dramatically during the recession, newspapers are forced to make budget cuts, layoffs and reduce space in the print editions, if not go out of business altogether.

“The difficult thing that I see is that advertising is becoming uncoupled from the news,” Pohlman said. “Advertisers are finding other ways to reach audiences, (such as) advertising online, creating their own Web sites to reach audiences and using direct mail. Some advertisers will still go through newspapers, but some will go directly to the public and not use traditional sources.

“That’s the key dilemma here. If you want to create a news product, how are people going to pay for it? How are you going to make money from it?”

Despite the rough times, Pohlman sees a silver lining in digital communication. “I see many of these former journalists staying alive by doing some of that same work online,” he sad. “It’ll take a few years, but many online news organizations will be and already are becoming major (contributors) to the news.”

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