Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and George Mason University professor Steven Pearlstein sounded an optimistic tone about the future of journalism at a time when the profession is going through a massive upheaval and many are concerned about the current state of the media.
The remarks were made during a panel discussion last Tuesday afternoon at the GMU campus in Fairfax, Virginia. Pearlstein was joined on the panel by former National Public Radio and current Fox News Channel political analyst Juan Williams; and NBC Washington weekend anchor Angie Goff. The panel was moderated by former journalist and current education reform activist Kathleen deLaski.
Pearlstein talked about the golden age at the Washington Post when "publishers lavished money on the newsroom" and newspapers like the Post were not only profitable but monopolized the attention of readers. "Those days newspapers mattered a lot." The financial struggles started with the loss of the "golden egg" of classified ads thanks to Craig's List and free specialized publications.
So how do you make journalism profitable again? Pearlstein sees a future of paying two dollars a day for your content on your iPad in the morning. But that the reality of people paying for content will take another 10 to 15 years because right now "only newspapers that are comfortable with unique content are charging."
Both Pearlstein and Williams lamented the current state of fragmentation in the media. "Advertisers and politicians value fragmentation," said Williams. And they both hope the pendulum swings back to the general audience. Otherwise, Williams fears, the future could be one of narrow self-interest in the news biz where "larger political discussions are extreme when filtered through the Internet and social media."
"There will be business realities that force the pendulum the other way because you need five million viewers to survive," said Pearlstein.
Goff is a big believer in social media if it is done in a professional way that furthers the news discussion.
"Twitter opens up trust and the relationship between the newsroom and the consumer," said Goff, adding that more stations should have a social media reporter.