Journalists discuss future of industry at Stephens College

Friday, October 30, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – As part of former journalist Dianne Lynch’s inauguration as the 24th president of Stephens College, a discussion on the future of journalism presented a flurry of ideas.

Among the topics discussed were the universal need for Internet access, the question of whether to charge money for online news content and journalism keeping in touch with communities.

The keynote address was held Thursday night at Stephens College. Titled “Democracy and the Uninformed Community,” it was given by Alberto Ibarguen, president of the nonprofit Knight Foundation. A panel discussion, titled “The Future of American Journalism,” followed Ibarguen’s presentation.

The panel speakers were Vicki Russell, associate publisher of The Columbia Daily Tribune; Jacqui Banaszynski, Knight Chair in Editing at the Missouri School of Journalism; and Kerri Yost, chair of the department of mass media and digital film at Stephens College.

Ibarguen spoke about the universal need for Internet access, in part as a way to spread or attain information.

“If you’re not digital, you are a second-class citizen,” he said.

He made reference to the fact that to get entry-level jobs at McDonald’s or Walmart, you may need Internet access just to fill out the applications.

He also pushed bringing news to people in different ways, making it available how they want it. This might be through newspapers, text messages, Tweets or online social networks, especially in situations or crisis.

After Ibarguen’s presentation, the panel members spoke on different subjects.

Russell said she does not believe newspapers were dying. She also said age was not a factor because in her experience with the Tribune, readership is spread evenly across age ranges.

“I think the loss of newspapers is like the loss of everything else – you don’t really know what you’re missing until it’s gone,” Russell said.

She stressed that she could only speak for newspapers in the size of Columbia’s community, though.

Russell also talked about charging money for online news content, especially after the economic downturn last year. She said the business model for newspapers is always changing and it always will.

Different pay models are being experimented with everywhere, Russell said. She specifically highlighted the “metered pay schedules model” that might not charge for casual users of a news Web site but could require frequent, active news gatherers to pay.

After Russell concluded, Banaszynski spoke about how journalists have lost touch with communities and need to engage more.

“I think we need to care deeply about the community so we can dig in and cover it,” she said.

She also said different situations need to be responded to differently, citing an example of a power outage in a part of Columbia a few years ago in which Missourian reporters distributed an update door-to-door to affected residents.

Inauguration events continue today. For a schedule of events, go here.


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