CMC Alumni Talk Future of Journalism

Last month, British author, editor and blogger Andrew Sullivan declared to his audience in Claremont that print media’s future is dead. A five-person panel convened at Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Oct. 13 to explain exactly why Sullivan was mistaken. Comprising of six CMC alums and a professor, the panel discussed the future of media from an industry standpoint.

Jeffrey Klein CM ’75, who served as moderator, started the discussion with a simple question: “What do you see for the future of media?”

The panelists’ responses were overwhelmingly optimistic.

Ken Greenberg CM ’75, a former contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and the founder and president of Edge Communications, encouraged aspiring journalists to pursue their dreams and called today a golden age of journalism, despite the shrinking number of successful print newspapers. 

“People are still interested in telling stories,” Greenberg said. “And look, it’s a capitalist country, we’ll figure it out.”

Michael Wilner CM ’11, the Washington Bureau Chief for The Jerusalem Post, agreed with Greenberg, urging increased perseverance in the face of difficulty. 

“Just because people are getting fired doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go into the field,” Wilner said. “It’s always been competitive.”

Wilner described the model as shifting toward sites like Buzzfeed and Politico, and away from traditional papers. However, the abundance of these new news sites gives readers a large amount of choice and autonomy when it comes to consuming news.

Len Apcar ’75 also expressed long-term optimism. He emphasized the necessity of model reorganization. 

“The desire for good information is going to be with us for a long time, no matter the platform,” he said.

Although there are still jobs available in the field of journalism, that doesn’t mean that traditional journalists will be able to find them. Nicholas Owchar, Jr. CM ’90 is the director of Development Communication and Content Production at CMC. A former deputy book editor at the Los Angeles Times, Owchar noted just how much the industry has changed.

“The LA Times was a velvet coffin—that’s where you stayed, that’s where you were; they even gave you a pension,” Owchar said.

While traditional print newspapers from around the country are folding, The New York Times is one example of a newspaper that has made the online transition relatively successfully. In addition to its print subscribers, the Times now has over 800,000 paying online subscribers.

Apcar, who worked for the Times during its online transition, said that once computers became household items, “you saw people quickly understand it was info when you wanted it.”

Still, the Times didn’t have an easy transition, and making the decision to move the online site to a paid subscription was a difficult one. The Times is even now trying to find new platforms for accessing readers, such as NYT Now, an app that markets itself as a newer, snappier version of the regular NYT app.

As online platforms increasingly become the mainstays of news consumption, advertisements have room to evolve as well. Interactive ads and flashing banner ads are not unusual sights on online news sites. While Sullivan warned that the proliferation of advertisements and their ability to control news content signals the end of journalism, there was disagreement from the panel regarding their influence.

Advertisements are about as old as newspapers, after all. 

“Let’s face it, we are a business,” Apcar said.

While some found the panelists’ confidence in the industry refreshing, others thought it unrealistic. Samuel Breslow PO ’18 thought that the speakers were too optimistic. 

“I think native journalism poses a serious risk to the integrity of journalism,” Breslow said.

Literature professor Audrey Bilger, the director of the Center for Public Writing and Discourse at CMC, said that this worry is nothing new. A regular contributor to Ms. Magazine, Bilger said that the content of women’s and especially feminist women’s magazines was restricted for a long time by concerns about advertisers pulling out. Ms. Magazine does not run ads anymore. 

Bilger also cited the fact that citizen reporters allow more stories to be made public, further circumventing the possibly negative influence of advertisements. Social media sites such as Twitter have allowed thousands of stories to be shared that might not have been heard otherwise. In Wilner’s work in Syria, citizen reporters are often indispensable in accessing areas and telling stories that traditional reporters cannot.

CMC Director of Web Design Lorraine Wang used to work at the LA Times, and warned against the industry’s newfound reliance on citizen reporters. With an increase in citizen reporting, there comes a simultaneous loss of power in being backed by a big newspaper. Without the money of a large publication, citizen reporters have less access to resources and information.

“You only get a certain quality of work if they’re doing work for free,” Wang said. 

Although Wang is no longer involved in journalism, she said she misses the newsroom.

“There’s nothing like it on earth,” Wang said. “Something great will be lost if the traditional newsroom is allowed to die.”

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