- Dean Baquet
Former editor, Los Angeles Times
- Charles Bobrinskoy
Vice chairman, Ariel Capital Management
- John Carroll
Former editor, Los Angeles Times
- Rob Curley
VP, Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive
- Jeff Fager
Executive producer, 60 Minutes
- John Hinderaker
Blogger, Power Line
- Jeff Jarvis
- Larry Kramer
Former head, CBS Digital Media
- Nicholas Lemann
Dean, Columbia University School of Journalism
- Josh Marshall
Blogger, Talking Points Memo
- Scott Moore
VP content operations, Yahoo!
- Craig Newmark
- James O'Shea
Editor, Los Angeles Times
- Dan Rather
Former anchor, CBS Evening News
- Eric Schmidt
- David Westin
President, ABC News
[I want to] say a couple things. First off, if we disappeared tomorrow, most of the people who call us dinosaurs would disappear, too. All the bloggers who exist to comment on us, the Googles and Yahoo!s who don't really have many of their own journalists but who rely on what we cover in the Middle East, who rely on what we write about in California and the nation and Washington, they wouldn't exist if we didn't exist.
Our economic model is obviously threatened. But ... there will always be a need for journalism. There will always be a need for coverage, and not just commentary. There will always be a need for institutions that have the wherewithal to have bureaus around the world and around the country, and big capital bureaus. There will always be the need for those kinds of institutions.
I think the people that call us dinosaurs don't understand what the world would look like if we weren't around. Their world would be very different if we weren't around. They rely on us. If we disappeared tomorrow, they might have to reinvent something that looks like us. …
You don't think they get their information from the radio, from television, which I know newspapers used to be very upset that television [in a sense] repurposed their information.
... It would be a great exercise to follow the flow of a fact that appears in Google, Yahoo! or on the radio, or on local television. I think you would trace it back to a newspaper. I think the reality is, when I drive in in the morning, and I listen to the radio, I'm listening to the front page of my newspaper and The New York Times. Those institutions that traffic in what newspapers come up with couldn't survive without newspapers.
Do you feel these news organizations are still willing to invest in long-term investigative reporting?
This is the argument that the people in the newsrooms have used for why we can't cut anything, because investigative reporting will go out the window. What we're saying is that you could give up the Istanbul office and nobody in L.A. would miss it. I wouldn't miss it. I'm not looking to the L.A. Times on their reporting on Istanbul.
I think we could have a win/win situation, where the L.A. Times could focus on providing news, better news, investigative news on what's happening in L.A. City Hall and be more focused and provide a better, higher-quality news product. And allow CNN and Fox to cover Istanbul. And then we'd all be better off. The shareholders would make a better return, and my news coverage would be better.
Fox is not covering Istanbul, and CNN is cutting back on its international newsgathering. People in the newsrooms say most of that information comes from newspapers. They do 80 percent or more of the gathering every day.
Again, you're entitled to your opinion on this. My opinion, as a user, is I have been reading newspapers and looking for information for all of my years, and I've never had more information about what's going on in the world than I have today.
USA Today is not necessarily going to spend the time on more in-depth stories that require more experienced people to do [them].
Here's the key distinction. We have no problem with long-term reporting and long-term investments. What we have a problem with is investments outside of the area that we think the L.A. Times should be covering. We don't want a long-term study on corruption in Istanbul; we don't mind a six-month study on corruption in the L.A. City Hall. When they do that we find their readers appreciate it, buy the newspaper, gobble up all the information about corruption at City Hall, and that's a win/win situation.
Where the problem is, is that the people who are writing the L.A. Times, they want to be writing about international events. They want to be writing long-term pieces about why Bush went to war in Iraq. And we're saying, and the people at Tribune are saying, there are other people writing those stories. Certainly you would agree with me: There's no lack of coverage on the issue of why Bush went to war in Iraq. Do we really need the L.A. Times devoting the resources it has to that story?
Knight Ridder, which doesn't exist as a chain anymore, was the one group that reported critically on WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and the reasons to go to war in Iraq. It was a fourth voice that doesn't exist anymore, doing national coverage.
If you and I went to the local bookstore, we could build a stack from here to the ceiling with books on why Bush went to war in Iraq. There's no lack of coverage of that issue.
... It is different. Newspapers are no longer in the driver's seat, the way they used to be, of the media. They enjoyed for a period of many years something close to a monopoly. They had great pricing power in advertising. That's what made newspapers what they are. They're the principal engine of journalism in America. They do most of the reporting. Most of the other media are recyclers of what newspapers produce. …
I estimate that roughly 85 percent of the original reporting that gets done in America gets done by newspapers. ... They're the people who are going out and knocking on doors and rummaging through records and covering events and so on. And most of the other media that provide news to people are really recycling news that's gathered by newspapers. ...
It is very evident that the new media, the media that are coming along with the Web, are investing almost nothing in original reporting. If newspapers fall by the wayside, who's going to do the reporting? What will we know? Who will stand up [against] the government when the government, for example, nullifies a couple of generations of law and secretly decides to wiretap us? Who will go to the courthouse? Who will go the police station in all the towns across America and make sure that things are being done properly? Who will examine all the people who seek to become political officeholders in the United States? ...
The only people who are going to be left standing as journalists in great numbers will be newspapers, and their business is being badly damaged by the owners.
... But the newspapers aren't all doing hard-news reporting all the time.
No, but they do most of it. Most of the hard-news reporting that gets done, and for that matter most investigative reporting that gets done -- and much of the news analysis that gets done, the really probing articles that enlighten people and explain complicated things -- is getting done by newspapers.
We interviewed John Carroll, who was the editor of the Los Angeles Times, who had left a couple of years ago. He said: "I estimate that roughly 85 percent of the original reporting that gets done in America gets done by newspapers. It's very evident that the new media, the media that are coming along with the Web, are investing almost nothing in original reporting." Is that right?
I wouldn't know. That's why I just stuck with the newspaper industry. It was the chasing of the story and having those reporting resources that was the big adrenaline rush for me. It was never repurposing what other people had found out. So that could be true. ...
Is Mr. Carroll missing the point when it comes to Web sites for newspapers, that you're basically gathering information? You're doing reporting on the Web?
For, like, a newspaper Web site?
A newspaper Web site to me is just another way of leveraging this amazing resource of reporters that a news organization has and making sure that it's serving its audience any way that it wants to be served.
If they want to have a paper thrown on their driveway, then we want to make sure they get it from us. But if they want to get an audio podcast, let's make sure they're getting it from us. If they want to get video news, let's make sure they're getting it from us. If they want to have scores sent to their cell phones, let's make sure they're getting it. We have the biggest reporting staff in every town. The newspaper almost always has the largest reporting staff. So for me, it's just taking the power of our news reporting skills and leveraging it every way we can.
Broadcast journalists overall are dependent on the newspapers more than they are willing to admit. We pride ourselves on original reporting, so we try not to, but from time to time we'll run with a story that we see in The New York Times or the L.A. Times. There's no doubt it's a problem. If everything becomes a news service without the kind of in-depth reporting that you get in these places, it's bad for all of us. The more independent, original reporters out there chasing down stories, the better off we all are, not just in the news business, but in the country. ...
The fear is that in this transition that's taking place, with eyeballs going to the Internet, that you're going to lose these sources of original reporting. [Former L.A. Times editor John Carroll] estimated 85 percent of all the new information every day comes from newspapers, and it's simply repurposed on the Internet.
Well, there's reason to be afraid of that between now and when the phenomenal success story of a newspaper is found on the Internet, the model for how to do it -- because at some point, someone's going to figure out we can make a lot of money covering stories in a traditional way on the Internet. It hasn't been done yet. ...
I don't think that the press has a special role in constitutional terms. I think they have a special role in our economy, and that is as primary news gatherers and news disseminators. We bloggers and others in the field of commentary can do anything that journalists can do. Sometimes we do it better; sometimes maybe we don't do it as well. But we can do it. But we don't have staffs of full-time reporters and budgets to send reporters to far-off parts of the world and so on. Somebody needs to carry out that primary news-gathering and news-reporting function.
I'm kind of old-fashioned in this regard. I think of it as a very honorable profession, a very important profession. I think that the traditional ideal of objectively and neutrality is very important, and I part company here with some of my good friends on the Web who think that everybody's got bias and you should forget about objectively and just tell people what your biases are and fight it out. ...
There's always subjectivity. Every time you pick up a pen and start to write, with the first word you're making judgment calls; you're making decisions; you're making subjective judgments about what story to write, what not to write, how to write the story. I understand that. But that doesn't mean that objectivity can't be an important ideal, an important goal, even if it's not perfectly realized.
So I do think there is a unique role for the press, not because they're constitutionally privileged, but because they've got the resources, because it's their job to go out and gather the news and report the news. I'd like to see that function carried out in as fair and neutral and objective a way as possible. From that point on, then I'd say let the commentators have at it, slug it out over the meaning of the news, the meaning of the facts, the importance of what was published in the newspapers that morning. ...
There's a new medium and a new way to do things, and so among the ways to get journalism over to that new world and that new growth are to find new efficiencies. ... What's the relationship of the newspaper to that journalist? ... It could be that they could hire them, but they're not hiring anymore. It could be, perhaps, that the business side creates an advertising network across a web of good, trusted, reliable people doing journalism. ...
There are new ways to maybe get public-supported journalism. NPR and PBS get money from the public and do great journalism. Jay Rosen at NYU has started something called newassignment.net, which is an effort to see whether people will support journalism with their ideas and their money and their reporting. That's not the solution to all journalism; the point is we have to find many models, many new ways to do things. ...
Someone is going to go investigate the hospitals; someone's going to figure that out. I hope it's still the journalistic organization, the newspaper, but if it's not, other journalists may band together to figure out a way to do it. ...
To do an in-depth story or investigation of a powerful institution usually requires resources, and you're in jeopardy doing this story, because they can come back to you either with subpoenas or lawsuits or possibly worse. ... Don't you see some danger in the future, as this changing economic model goes on with the Internet, that ... that kind of reporting won't happen?
I'm concerned about the lack of support to journalism by whomever is committing those acts of journalism. ... The Media Law Research Center is tracking I think more than 50 suits against bloggers right now, some of them pure harassment. We have to defend them, because if we don't defend them, then the rights of all journalists are affected. Yes, I'm concerned about it at every level and every rank. ...
Is the Internet in danger of destroying the content providers?
No, I think it's not. I think in the long run it's helping match the audience to the content. Here's the other scary thing for newspapers: When you bought a newspaper, what did you buy it for? When you stop to think [of] all the people that bought a newspaper last week, did they buy it for the front page? Did they buy it for the movie listings? Did they buy it for the furniture ads on Saturday? Did they buy it for the classifieds on Sunday? What reason did each person who bought a paper buy it? No one knows the answer to that. I mean, I'm sure there's some research, but it's sampling. No one really knows why. ...
The Internet -- you don't get a page view unless somebody asks for that page. So the efficiency of delivering news -- you really do get a sense of how many people are reading a news story, not just how many people bought The New York Times that day. If The New York Times' circulation is 1.2 million, there are no stories where the answer will be 1.2 million people read that story. It will be fewer, and the scary thing is that the stories that are read the most are the type of stories that will continue to get done the most, and that we lose that thing of bringing people stories that they don't [want] -- and that's what you're worried about.
Well, not worried about it. I'm thinking there are institutions in society that newspapers examine, from law enforcement agencies to major corporations, that are powerful. Who is going to pay for that kind of reporting?
Oh, I think a lot of people will. I think a lot of people will. You're confusing the fact that the Internet's really good right now for fast news, short, fast news. That is what it's doing, compared to the other medium, but it's also really good at in-depth [coverage] and really good at the ability to give you a ton of information about something you're interested in. ...
So you disagree with Eric Schmidt, who said to me that there's going to be less investigative reporting on the Web, eventually.
... I have a higher confidence level that there will be. I think there will be. I think there will be a market for it. There is an audience for it. And consequently people will do it and get paid to do it. You've had audiences for niche publications that for years have supported a certain kind of investigative reporting, right? There have just been magazines; there have been different forms of journalism; and there have been TV shows like 60 Minutes, which on their own have been supported either by advertising or by subscription. So there is an audience. There will be an audience for this news. The audience doesn't go away. We just have to effectively give it to them. ...
Everyone's running to the Internet. At the same time, when you talk to people at these newspapers or broadcasting companies, they'll tell you the revenue from this is really pretty small and there's declining profits in their parent companies. What's at risk, they say, is in-depth reporting and the future of it. Is it at risk?
I hope it's not at risk, and let me make the case why it wouldn't be at risk. That would be that the economics of the Internet are going to start to work over time. If we're sitting here in 20 years, it's my hope that the people who are doing really good journalism on the Web, that serves local audiences and so on, will be making money at it, and that the print publication will still exist and will have settled down to a smaller, natural level.
Putting it another way, reporting -- taking out the word "in-depth" -- is the only thing you can really offer on the Internet that people would conceivably be willing to pay for; certainly subscribers, and maybe even advertisers. For that reason, I think the economics will start to work on the Web side of journalism.
Most of the established newspapers in the United States, as far as audience goes, have very healthy Web sites with much bigger audiences than their print edition. I can't think of a single big city in the United States where some other person came along and established the dominant local news site that has a bigger audience than the daily newspaper's site.
So the question really becomes, what does the slope of decline look like for the print edition, and does it start to sort of level off? What is the slope of income increase on the Web side through advertising, through some form of paid circulation, through some form of monetizing search? And will we get to some kind of equilibrium where it's still supporting reporting?
I really hope it will, and I believe it will. At every moment in my life there's been something that was in crisis, and it's always been wrong to follow the trend line at that moment down as far as it goes. It's perilous to believe that what's happening in 2006 is just going to keep happening exactly the same way, at the same pace, for the next 10 years.
Let me take you to another subject. Maybe you could speak in general, because you've written about the [Valerie] Plame case a year ago, about how it exposed journalists and their sources.
OK. So the Plame case is not really about this world of lonely, courageous whistleblowers who leak material about government corruption to journalists that we all like to think that the journalist-source relationship is all about.
Instead, it's about another part of the journalistic world that isn't, frankly, very attractive, and that is the cozy relationships between Washington reporters and high government officials. They're talking all the time. The reporters have their self-interest, the officials have their self-interest, and you can argue that it's healthy for the reporters to maintain this line of communication so they can tell readers what's going on. But part of what happens is an administration uses that relationship essentially to slime its enemies, and that's what happened here.
This man, [former Ambassador] Joe Wilson, popped up as essentially a public and fairly damaging critic of the Bush administration, and various people in the administration whispered in the ears of various reporters things meant to impugn him. That's how Valerie Plame, his wife, got pulled into it.
In other words, the basic argument as I read it -- it's all complicated and shadowy -- was, "Hey, you need to know something about this guy," and that is, "the only reason he was over there in Niger is that his wife is a CIA agent, and he was a little down on his luck, and she was looking for a freelance assignment to throw him. So that's why he was there." I think that is where the whole case seems to come from. So that particular reporter-source interaction is not the wondrous part of journalism that we all like to brag about, but it goes on.
But the administration's side -- Mr. Wilson wrote an op-ed piece in which he spoke about how he believed that it was [Vice President] Dick Cheney who had, in a sense, dispatched him, through the CIA, to do this mission -- so all the government was doing was trying to say, "That's not true; it was because his wife put him up for the job and nominated him to go do this."
In a perfect world, these people at the high levels of the Bush administration should have flipped through their book of legislation and said, "There is a law against exposing a working CIA agent." In fact, even if it weren't a law, they shouldn't have done it, for all the obvious reasons. They should have had the thought, "We're so mad at Joe Wilson because we just dispute his version of why he was sent there, but unfortunately we have to bite our tongues, because we're not allowed to out a CIA agent." That is what should have happened in this case, but it's not what did happen.
And what does this case say about the relationship of the Bush administration to the press?
Well, what it says to me is sort of counterintuitive, because everybody goes around saying, "This administration is the most leakproof and the least hospitable to the press ever, the most hostile to the press ever." I've covered Washington on and off for a long time, and I don't disagree with that. This is an administration where you can't just stroll into the White House and the Executive Office Building and phone people up and go see them. It's pretty locked down.
But what this case shows is that even the Bush administration, because of the way Washington works, is in constant, chummy, off-the-record contact with the press.
Selected members. But the people that they're talking to are a mix of friendlies and fairly neutral people. In other words, [Time magazine reporter] Matt Cooper did not have a reputation as a member of the conservative media or somebody sympathetic to the Bush administration or unsympathetic; just a reporter covering the White House for a major news organization.
I assume you believe in reporters having confidential sources. Now, the first kind of sources we're talking about --
What I tell students here, when they ask, "Is it always preferable to get things on the record?" is, you should try to get things on the record. I always try as a journalist to get things on the record. But if pressed, I wouldn't say to people, "I will only speak on the record, and I will never go on background or off the record," because you do get things that are helpful to you in prying out some other information from some other person. So I believe in it, but not as the first resort, I suppose.
What's the public-interest in stories that resulted from confidential sources, the real whistleblower type?
Essentially, if you work in a news organization, you get tips all the time about things that need to be looked into. Most of them don't amount to anything, but some of them do amount to something. And many, many, many really good and important and world-changing stories begin with an anonymous person leaking an interview or leaking a document. ...
A really good example is the Abu Ghraib story. This story rocked the world. It was bad for the American war effort in Iraq, but I think very few people would argue that it isn't net good for the country and the world and democracy and discourse to have this seen in the light of day. And all this material in the first instance came from confidential sources. If you had a world with no confidential sources, I don't think we'd know about Abu Ghraib. Not everything comes out on its own.
So [the use of] confidential sources is wedded to the public-interest function of the press, especially over the last 30 years or so?
The First Amendment was not written with confidential source relationships in mind. The First Amendment was written at a time when there really wasn't much reportorial journalism, and what I think the framers of the Constitution had in mind in the First Amendment was protecting essentially freedom of political speech when it was printed and disseminated.
Nonetheless, I think there's a very strong public-interest argument for confidential source relationships and how they enhance democracy. That's why most of the states have legislation on the books protecting those relationships. Now, the federal government doesn't have legislation protecting it, and that's where things are getting interesting right now.
Well, [New York Times reporter] Judy Miller went to jail because of it, the lack of a federal shield law.
Judy Miller went to jail, right.
What do you think of Judy Miller and what happened? She went to jail. Did that help journalism? Did that hinder journalism?
I admire her for sticking by her guns and essentially saying, "I have a confidential source relationship, and I'm going to protect it, and I'm going to go to jail to protect it." She didn't claim that it was legally protected; she essentially said, "I have made a bargain with my source," who turned out to be [former Chief of Staff to Vice President Cheney] Scooter Libby, "and I'm standing by my word even though I know there isn't any legal protection currently, and I'm going to go to jail over it."
She had a coherent argument for why she then left jail and testified, which was that Libby had released her from her bond that she had made with him, a sort of private contract without legal standing. So therefore she left jail. I think the way the case nets out, though, is that prosecutors would take from it the signal that if you just keep pushing and pushing and pushing on the press, they're going to cave on this going-to-jail stuff and eventually testify. So I'm not sure that --
But has that been unfair, because [journalist and author] Bob Woodward didn't resist the subpoena when it turned out he was one of the first recipients of this information. [Columnist] Robert Novak didn't resist. [NBC's] Tim Russert walked right in and said, "Of course I'll testify." And Cooper at first testified and only then balked, and then later testified. Has it been unfair to rap Judy Miller because she was willing to take this to jail and make a point of it?
She showed a lot of courage in being willing to go to jail to protect her source, and that's admirable. I just think the net of that case doesn't play well for the press in its ongoing maneuvering with prosecutors, because prosecutors took from that case the lesson, "If you keep pushing you'll eventually get the person to testify." So it's important. Her behavior and The New York Times' editorial stance are both important.
If they thought all along, "If only Scooter Libby would have a conversation where he'd release us from our obligation, then we wouldn't need to go to jail, and we'd be happy to testify," it would have been better from a PR standpoint for them to have that conversation a few months earlier and not walk up the hill and then walk down the hill. But nonetheless, I do admire her for being willing to go to jail to protect the promise she made to her source.
But the reason prosecutors may take encouragement to subpoena reporters is that the journalism community, particularly the Washington journalism community that sits in that same sort of hothouse every day, basically caved? [Special prosecutor] Pat Fitzgerald gets people to sign waivers, and everybody walks in and starts talking.
Right. Look, here's the situation. Almost all states have a shield law that spells out when reporters are protected in their source relationship and don't have to testify. There is no federal shield law. This applies notably in the area of national security; national security is not covered by shield laws.
If you had to say to somebody, "What's the net result of the Plame case with respect to protecting the reporter-source relationship?" and you have to state it in one or two sentences, you'd say: "The net result is, absent a federal shield law, if prosecutors push hard, news organizations will eventually cooperate. Some will cooperate right away, some will cooperate more slowly, but the prosecutor got every news organization to testify." That's the one-sentence version of this.
But even if there's a federal shield law and you have an issue like the identity of a CIA agent, or who told you about an NSA [National Security Agency] program, no shield law is going to protect --
Well, so that's what's good about legislation. It's healthy to settle public policy matters through having laws passed because it makes all this clear, what's protected and what's not protected. A hypothetical federal shield law would clearly have to address situations like this, and it would have to say either, "Even in all cases it's protected, end of story," in which case the prosecution wouldn't go after the press, or they would say, "There are the following three or four exceptions where there is no shield," and then prosecutors would go after the press, [and] they'd have a strong case.
In other words, it's hard for the press to argue, "There's something we do that is in the public interest, and even though the public's elected representatives haven't detected that it's in the public interest, we know it is, so therefore we get a legal protection." It forces the press to go into Congress and argue the case. It's democracy at work.
One reason that a federal shield law wasn't passed -- as I understand it, Congress was poised to pass it in '74 or '75 -- one of the issues was, "What's a journalist?"
All these things you can settle, though. We journalists tend to think everything involving us is uniquely complicated and nobody can possibly work it out and understand it except for us. I've seen various iterations of this definition. But you can settle this by having a bunch of people in a room writing various versions of the legislation and arguing about it. They're all out there now. I don't think it's a crippling problem.
But meanwhile, if a federal court just ruled on another Judy Miller case involving phone records. ... And the BALCO [Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative baseball steroids] case is pending and those reporters [Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams from the San Francisco Chronicle] are facing jail, and a young blogger [Josh Wolf] is in prison. It sounds like there's a concerted effort, particularly on the [part of the] federal government, to squeeze reporters and to squeeze this privilege.
I wouldn't say a concerted [effort]. I would stop there. I would say the atmospherics have changed on this issue. The atmospherics are that I think prosecutors, having to meet and talk about it, would just by reading the papers have the feeling that if the information they want entails subpoenaing a reporter and asking about his source relationship, the climate is much more friendly now to that working than it used to be.
By the way, these prosecutors, they're not getting up in the morning saying, "I'm doing this in order to destroy freedom of the press in America." They're saying, "Why does the reporter get a right to stand in the way between me and catching the bad guy, which is my job?" There are two competing visions of the good here, which is why you need legislation.
The fear is that there's not going to be enough money out there to pay for, if you will, this objective kind of journalism, this professional journalism that you like to critique but you also depend on, because you depend on The New York Times or CBS News ... to set a standard.
Oh, absolutely, absolutely. ... I think the blogs depend on the mainstream media for much more than to set a standard. They rely on the mainstream media for a lot of the original spadework of reporting. There's no question about that. ...
So who's going to pay for it if you're adding to the problem by not only helping to, in a sense, undermine it, but also taking away [advertising] revenue?
I disagree with the premise. I think that the reason that investigative reporting is being underfunded, or just reporting in general is being underfunded, is not because blogs are taking some minute fraction of their ad revenue. It's because the ownership basis of a lot of the media's changing. ... The news divisions in the past weren't expected to really turn a profit. They would break even. They were loss leaders in the whole context of the news business. The big newspapers were owned by families. Now they're being much more run on a profit basis. ...
I think a lot of the companies, a lot of the institutions that we know about are going to cease to exist or change. But I have faith that the basic functioning of journalism -- people going out, collecting together facts, telling a story to their readers that is as true as they can ascertain -- I have faith that that is going to survive all this economic turbulence, even though I think the challenges and the dangers that you describe are real.
[Newspapers and other news organizations gather an estimated 80 percent of the news every day.] But the Internet has been cutting into the profitability of the economic model that supported that all this time. So who's going to pay for it?
I would take a slight issue with your statement about the newsgathering, because the reality is that the Associated Press and Reuters and other wire services actually probably do the bulk of the newsgathering for newspapers.
A local newspaper that runs national stories, international stories, the sports section -- excluding the local team coverage -- all of that is supplied by these news wire organizations. And in the case of the Associated Press, they're actually owned by the newspapers. Yahoo! News and all the other online news providers have significant partnerships with those wire services. We pay them large, several-million-dollars-a-year licensing fees, so we're actually directly paying for their newsgathering infrastructure.
If you're the Associated Press and you have a business opportunity like licensing content you're producing for newspapers and other traditional forms to a new form like the Internet, and [you] make tens of millions of dollars more a year in doing that, you're going to be motivated to do that. And that's exactly what's happening.
But the Associated Press gets to use the content that its members provide as well.
Which then you get to use. They may repurpose it in some fashion, but --
Well, the Associated Press does its own newsgathering with its own staff of writers and reporters and editors. I believe that that is the largest newsgathering operation in the United States. We'd have to check that, but I'm pretty sure it is. It's larger than any single newspaper. Then the local papers do their own newsgathering within their markets, and they do feed that content into the AP. But the AP doesn't license all that back out to online providers. They haven't done that. So they typically license the stuff, the material, the news that they're gathering and creating themselves.
So what you're paying for is the newsgathering done by the AP's own employees, not all their members?
Right. That's correct, yeah. Now, the members do supply content into it, and that kind of goes in the mix, so there's some of that. But, for example, we do not have a license at Yahoo! to content that's specifically created by the L.A. Times in Los Angeles on that market unless they choose to put it into that feed.
OK. But still, the numbers involved -- whether it's Yahoo! News or MSNBC.com and so on -- are relatively small compared to the size of the newsgathering organizations and their payroll. So in the future you may be able to help pay for newsgathering. What happens in the interim?
In the aggregate, online new distributors like Yahoo! and MSNBC and others are already paying very substantial amounts of money to these news wire organizations. So it's not as though we're not paying them a lot today. And it will grow over time. It grows in conjunction with the revenues that we earn.
But that dynamic is exactly the same dynamic that we were talking about a minute ago, which is that if the audience wants to get their news online -- which they clearly do -- and they're shifting their collective attention to online news providers, then the creators of that news content have no choice really but to follow that audience and to serve people who, like Yahoo!, who are providing a news experience for millions and tens of millions of people every month.
The newsgathering infrastructure is losing its financial base, part of which is the loss of some classified revenue. Do you see how craigslist has undermined the economics of the newsgathering business?
OK. I can see how a lot of new organizations, particularly on the Web, have deprived traditional news organizations of some real revenue. That's a real effect, and it disturbs me, because I can see that people like investigative journalists have been getting fired for some years. One cause of this has to do with newspaper chains going after high profit margins. ... I feel that as a good citizen, if I want to help people do the right thing, I would bring this to light in whatever small way I can, but also I could support the people who are building new ways of funding journalism. The best example of this is Jay Rosen and newassignment.net, who is right now trying to launch his experiment where he, again, tries to find a couple of new ways to fund journalism, maybe sometimes a sponsorship or a patronage model. ...
Ever consider expanding the profits of your operation to buy a news organization?
We're not real interested in expanding the profit base. The principal reason we charge four new cities for job postings, and that was recent, was because we kept getting complaints about bad posts in those cities. Once a market gets mature, it attracts some bad guys. As far as buying a news organization -- not interested. I should mention that any interest you hear from me in terms of news and journalism is just me speaking. Craigslist is not interested in that. ...
No one ever called you up and said: "What are you doing? Are you some kind of Communist?"
We hear from the news business a lot, and it's almost always people [who] like what we're doing. That includes newspaper publishers and editors. The only flak we've gotten are from a couple papers where they've decided to abandon the separation between marketing and editorial, but that's a very, very tiny fraction of the news business. Mostly they encourage us to do what we're doing.
So no one called you and said, "You're destroying us?"
Nothing like that.
You understand the newsgathering organizations feel threatened -- not just the corporate ownership, but the newsrooms?
I speak to a lot of reporters, and I can see that they feel their jobs are in some jeopardy because of a whole host of effects: due to TV news, due to the Internet, due to a desire for high profit margins in some cases. And I think this is really serious because the most important reporting, investigative reporting, has been cut back not only because of the Internet but for the last 10 or 20 years. We need to preserve reporting jobs, and most importantly we need to preserve and strengthen investigative reporting. ...
I've been reading the novels of Carl Hiaasen for years now, and I'm kind of dense, but I can see even from fiction that investigative reporting is maybe the essence of journalism and what you need badly to preserve a democracy. That's really important. I'm fumbling around trying to help that, but there are people like Jay Rosen who are doing the heavy lifting trying to preserve that. There are the folks at the Sunlight Foundation; they're doing heavy lifting. The Center for Public Integrity, same thing.
I've been in print, and I was in television and back in print, but what I lived through in the television industry was, in the 1980s, a technology change: Cable came along, digital cable, major corporate ownership that swallowed up the various networks, and stockholder pressure. Result: Once large and vigorous newsgathering organizations closed their bureaus and relied on other sources of information and today don't do very much newsgathering. And now something similar to that, a similar pressure, seems to be happening in the newspaper business, which is sort of the last line of defense of newsgathering. ...
Some of the pressures are similar, and you are seeing in some sectors dramatic cutbacks, but I don't think you can say you're seeing that at the Los Angeles Times. I don't think you can say you're seeing that at the Chicago Tribune. When I went to the Chicago Tribune in the '90s to become the associate managing editor for foreign and national news, I had I forget how many bureaus. Five to 10 years later, when I became the deputy managing editor, I still had all those bureaus. All those bureaus exist today. So nobody's really cut back on foreign news. I think at the Los Angeles Times the same thing is true. ...
But I don't see the major kind of cutbacks that I think you did see in television. I just don't know enough about television, but it seemed to me that television had another medium that they go to -- entertainment -- and they could get revenue off of that. Newspapers really don't have anywhere to go if they aren't news. If you start backing out of the news business and closing down and not telling people what's going on in the world, you aren't going to be very successful.
But isn't there a pressure on newspapers to go or feature other areas that are, in a sense, more entertaining, because they are losing advertising; you are losing subscribers? So, for example, it's a natural that the Los Angeles Times does more in-depth coverage of Hollywood.
But I think that's good; I think Hollywood was undercovered [by the Times] in the first place. But I don't think anybody's sitting there and saying, "Let's go cover Hollywood so we can get more revenue." I think people are saying, "Let's go cover Hollywood because we aren't doing a good enough job covering Hollywood." And if we're doing our job right, somebody else can probably get revenue on that, but my decisions can't be driven by where we're going to get revenue. My decisions have to be driven by, where are we going to get readership?
So you don't see a big threat to the newspaper industry, and the Los Angeles Times in particular?
There is a threat that if we don't expand online, and if we don't cover our region better, then we become irrelevant to people here. ... Are there pressures? Of course there are pressures. There are cost pressures all over the place, and that's because of natural economic forces that are beyond your and my control. But I don't think that means we're doomed. ...
When we were interviewing John Carroll, the former executive editor of the L.A. Times, he said that in his recent studies that 80 percent or more of the new information gathered every day is still gathered by newspapers.
I wouldn't dispute that. I think that's probably true. I've not done any study, ... but what happens in your average newsroom is that people read the newspaper. Yes, they read the Internet increasingly now, but they read the newspaper and get story ideas out of the newspaper. It's not unusual just to lift things straight out of the newspaper. The better operations make some attempt to give credit; the others don't. But I think that's probably true. ...
At one time, when you got involved in television news and when it was evolving into a larger and larger organization, it was gathering its own news.
It was gathering a lot of its own news. What happened is that in the very beginning, newspaper owners were very wary of radio as a competitor -- we're talking now in the very late '20s and the early '30s -- so much so [that], ... for example, for some years, a radio network could not use the AP [Associated Press] material because the newspaper barons, who were the most powerful in journalism at the time, said, "Listen, radio stations should not be able to use our collective material off the AP."
Meanwhile, as radio matured and developed -- primarily because of Ed Murrow and Bill Shirer [who together pioneered radio coverage of events in Europe in the 1930s, particularly in Germany] -- radio began to say, "We need to cover news on our own." This was the starting of radio operations -- by no means all, but particularly radio networks -- forming their own newsgathering operations, and that grew over time.
Then as radio became a mature business and television began to come on after World War II, and ... as television began to grow and to mature, the television news operations, and in particular the networks, had their own newsgathering operations.
I would say that the high watermark of that probably was reached in the late 1970s and early 1980s. That is when television news operations and particularly local stations were at their absolute height of having newsgathering operations, as opposed to just news-packaging [operations]. ... Increasingly what has happened in television is that television news has morphed from an emphasis on newsgathering -- gathering their own news -- into an emphasis on news packaging; that is, we will take news that's gathered by other people -- what's called in the other businesses "outsourcing." We will outsource the gathering of news. We will buy film from Reuters or from a stringer in South Africa, and then we will package it. …
The fear in newsrooms is the resources will disappear to do in-depth investigative reporting, take on the larger institutions of society and fulfill the public-interest role. Would you intervene to prevent that?
Rather than purchasing one, we would probably try to figure out a way to do the best possible deal to favor the existence of such groups, because we're critically dependent upon them. It's also true that newsgathering is going through a process of consolidation. There may be fewer investigative teams around the country, and that's not a good thing. But they're not going to go away. It's too fundamental an aspect of our democracy in the United States and worldwide.
... We interviewed John Carroll, who was the editor of the Los Angeles Times, and he's been up there in Shorenstein Center [on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government], thinking. He presented this perspective that's still looking at the news industry in the United States -- that 80 to 85 percent of the new information every day is still produced by newspapers; that the television broadcast industry used to do a lot of news gathering, a lot more than it does today. Is that ever going to come back?
I hate to quibble, and I do agree that newspapers provide a lot of the original reporting. ... A lot of the newspapers are relying upon Associated Press, which has enormous resources around the world, as you know. So I just don't know about 80 percent/20 percent, and I don't know whether that's changed over time.
Clearly, we have fewer people assigned to bureaus that we did 20 years ago -- that's right -- and we have somewhat fewer bureaus. We have more bureaus than people think we do, but we have fewer bureaus.
Is that going to change and turn around? No, I don't think so. I don't think so. Part of that is because other outlets have grown up that can give us the material that we now need. The Associated Press now is involved in television news, not just print news, as you know. They've got APTN [Associated Press Television News], which is very successful and provides a lot of coverage around the world. We have a relationship with the BBC, and we rely upon the BBC for reporting in some places where we don't have operations. We have a relationship with the NHK [Japan Broadcasting Corporation].
Technology has made changes so you don't need as many people when it comes to the technical side. You simply don't. You can get people in places and get pictures out a lot faster. So I don't think that that will change, no. ...