Many say the current presidential race is the most uncivilized in modern American history. Civility in public discourse, why it seems to have hit a new low and long-term implications for the democratic process.
Guest Host: Steve Roberts
Over the past decade, the number of Americans subscribing to news magazines has greatly declined as more and more readers are getting their news from Internet sources. The online migration has led to a steep drop in advertising revenues, threatening the viability of some old media giants. The latest of these is Newsweek, which announced last week that it would print its last issue at the end of 2012. But other publications, such as The Economist, have weathered the storm by charging for content and creating opportunities for targeted advertising. Guest host Steve Roberts and guests discuss the future of news magazines in the digital age.
- John Micklethwait editor-in-chief at The Economist.
- Stephen Shepard dean of the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Journalism and former senior editor at Newsweek and BusinessWeek.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSThanks so much for joining us, I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane Rehm while she's away on a station visit. Last week, Newsweek announced it would stop publishing its print magazine after an 80-year run. Venerable News Weekly said it would shift to an entirely digital product. The move came as a shock to many in the news business but not to veteran journalist Steve Shepard who lead Newsweek and Business Week at the dawn of the internet age.
MR. STEVE ROBERTSIn a new book, Shepard explains how a focus on quality and the right digital business models might save news magazines from extinction. His new book is titled, "Deadlines and Disruption: My Turbulent Path from Print to Digital." Thank you so much, Steve Shepard, for being here.
MR. STEPHEN SHEPARDThank you, Steve, glad to be with you.
ROBERTSYou can join our conversation at 1-800-433-8850 or email address, as always, firstname.lastname@example.org. Now, this week brought the earth shaking news that a major figure in American journalism, Clark Kent, left the Daily Planet and is going digital. Clark Kent, of course, being Superman. How'd you read that news?
SHEPARDWell, maybe he'll teach us how to do it, my God. If he has all these superpowers, he'll, all of a sudden, make it possible for digital journals and to pay its way.
ROBERTSI remember, listening to the NPR report and Perry White, the legendary editor...
ROBERTS...at Daily Planet saying, You know, that Clark Kent, he's the fastest typist I've ever seen in the news room. But all kidding aside, it was interesting that that happened the same week that Newsweek announced it was going all digital. And you were an editor at Newsweek for a long time, like you I spent time at a News Weekly, seven years at US News and cherish the role that News Weekly's have played in the American landscape. And how do you read the Newsweek announcement's significance?
SHEPARDWell, yes, it's -- first of all, it's very sad for all of us who worked there. But I think that the conventional wisdom about what happened is wrong or at least incomplete. The conventional wisdom seems to be, that in this day and age, if a 24 hour news cycle always on and bloggers and social media and so on, who needs a weekly magazine? And I think that that's sort of superficial. If you look, there are plenty of other weekly magazines that are doing just fine, thank you.
SHEPARDThe Economist, which is a news magazine, the Week which is a news magazine of sorts, the New Yorker under David Remnick, the New York Magazine under Adam Moss and, of course, Time Magazine itself which was voted magazine of the year by the American Society of Magazine Editors, just this year and is profitable. So you have to ask yourself the question, why is Time profitable and Newsweek is failing?
ROBERTSAnd you mentioned the Economist and John Micklethwait is the American Editor and Chief of the Economist will be on this show in -- later in the program to give his perspective...
ROBERTS...but I want to get that before, what variables have you isolated, Steve? If you look at the ones that are failing, you look at the ones that are successful, what's the difference?
SHEPARDIt's that vague concept called editorial quality. And by that, I mean, original stories that are not available elsewhere. Enterprise journalism that combines the eternal verities of traditional journalism that we grew up with, which is to say, very good reporting, fine writing, analytic critical thinking and ethical values that define traditional media all these years, combine with the -- all the things that have to be done in this new world of social media and blogging and interactivity and multimedia journalism. And I think Time, for example, the print magazine is the center of really one platform among many that they're doing.
SHEPARDSo those magazines are really very, very original and people want to read them and are willing to pay for them. So that's what defines quality journalism, in my view. And, I think, sad to say, Newsweek had slipped very badly, not just under Tina Brown but even before that to the point that it was irrelevant.
ROBERTSAnd this whole notion of simply being a magazine that recaptures -- that recounts the news, that's pretty much dead. What you're saying is that a weekly has to provide more value, more quality then simply saying, this is what happened last week.
SHEPARDThat's right. I mean, if you're going to do what happened last week, which to some degree you have to, you have to add extraordinary value and use the news as a point of departure for analytic forward looking story. But most of the time, you should be timely but not necessarily tied to last week's news. And that means original stories. And when that cover, when that magazine lands on your desk or your coffee table, you want to look at the cover...
ROBERTSOr on your tablet.
SHEPARD...or -- yes, you want to look at that and say, Wow, I got to read that story.
SHEPARDAnd that was what was missing in Newsweek, I'm afraid.
ROBERTSWell, you know, you and I also both professors these days…
ROBERTS...and have taught, you at City University in New York and I teach at George Washington, here in the District, and I -- we both teach young journalists and one of the elements of quality or professionalism that I think is very important is the dimension of ethics because in this media universe, for all of the enormous benefits that come from these proliferation of platforms and growth and new voices, it's part of what we're -- what any successful publication is selling, is reliability, it's trustworthiness to it's -- to its stakeholders. And talk about that dimension of it.
SHEPARDYeah, the brands of traditional media stood for ethics and quality and you knew where they were coming from and what they stood for. Now, obviously, things went wrong and there were plagiarism scandals at very prominent news organizations...
SHEPARD...including the New York Times and the Republic and others, Boston Globe. And that was bad but right now, things -- we live in a different kind of world and it's much harder for students and young people who grew up in what I call a remix society. That they're getting information from all over the place and they're mashing it together. To understand that you have to attribute where you got the information, you have to credit people who did the reporting that you're using. And it's a little bit harder these days to drum that into -- to students. But we spend a lot of time and I'm sure you do to in conveying these ethical values.
ROBERTSYou know, part of what is the trick in journalism education today, is to be both extremely cutting edge and teaching the kids the very latest in the form of technology and social media and yet also remind them that there are some principles that don't change at all, a good story is a good story is a good story even when it's delivered on a stone tablet, right?
ROBERTSAnd ethics is still ethics. And so you have to be both very modern and yet very traditional at the same time.
SHEPARDThat's right. And it's hard because first of all, you have to teach a lot more...
SHEPARD...and ours is a master's program in journalism and it's a year and a half and it's hard to get everything in from the eternal varies of the traditional world to all the new stuff. But you're right, the ethics is a constant and you have to drum it into them over and over again in every course that they take.
ROBERTSAnd one of the things you talk a lot about in your new book, "Deadlines and Disruption," is the whole question of revenue models and...
ROBERTS...it's now an obvious cliché that the traditional sources of revenue, display advertising, subscriptions are dwindling and that that, as you put it out, you know, the print dollars are being replaced by digital dimes. They're not -- the replacement rate is not nearly as effective. But what are you learning as you study and talk to other people in your own personal experience about the evolving new models that might...
SHEPARDBusiness models, yeah.
ROBERTS...might keep people alive?
SHEPARDYeah, the most encouraging thing we've seen is the use of pay systems, metering systems that the New York Times and other papers, they're about 1,400 daily newspapers in the United States and about 250 of them, 20 percent, roughly are now charging readers to go online and get their content on one digital platform or another. And what we've discovered, much to our great pleasant surprise, is that the traffic does not fall off as much as we were told or feared when you start charging people.
SHEPARDThe metering system, the way it works, is that somebody is allowed 10, who's not a subscriber to the paper, is allowed 10 free stories online or on their iPad. And after that they start to pay. And what we -- what we now know is that 85 percent of people who come to a website do not get to that 11th story because they don't stay at the paper that long. They flip from one website to another. And those who stay, that remaining 15 percent are willing to pay. Those are the hardcore readers. And so at the New York Times, they have 500,000 people who are not subscribers to the print paper, who have signed up for the digital edition.
SHEPARDPaying on average, $200 a year for delivery on one or another digital platform. And what that amounts to is $100 million of new incremental circulation revenue. Now, this is a company, the New York Times company, that made only $54 million in operating profit last year. So $100 million in new revenue is significant. Look at it in another way, the cost of running that big New York Times newsroom is about $200 million a year. So they have now found a new revenue stream that will kick in $100 million a year. That's terrific. And what -- now, not every paper is the New York Times, I realize.
SHEPARDBut what we're finding around the country is that, on a smaller scale, these metering systems are working for other newspapers, bringing in about 10 to 15 percent more revenue with almost no decline in traffic. It's fabulous.
ROBERTSWell, you know, and the other revenue model, is a very obvious one to anyone listening to us because last week was pledge week on National Public Radio. And that has proved again and again, that audiences, like ours, are willing to pay for quality. And understand its value.
SHEPARDThat's absolutely right. And that's very heartening. The issue really is the advertising issue online or on tablets or on smart phones, the revenue really is very, very low. There's a lot of advertising on news sites but most of it's going to the tech companies. It's a great business if you're Google, it's not such a great business if you're the L.A. Times or the Minnesota Star Tribune. So there -- we have to figure out ways to get advertising rates up on these digital platforms otherwise it isn't going to work.
SHEPARDYou know, Newsweek says, well we're giving up our print magazine and we're going to digital platforms. Well, okay, they reduce their costs mightily and that's terrific but the revenue also goes away because the print revenue, advertising revenue, is higher than the rates then what they get on digital platforms.
ROBERTSBut isn't there some promising developments in terms of what digital can offer advertisers, is highly targeted...
ROBERTS...ads aimed down to individuals subscribers. There must be a value to them in that.
SHEPARDThere is. But the -- news media have been very, very slow to take advantage of what the internet is all about which is personalization and targeting. Pew did a study, they looked at 22 news sites and -- to see who was doing a good job of targeting. And there were only three of them that were doing a good job of targeting. So we have to learn, as an industry, how to do a better job of personalizing our information and advertising to readers.
ROBERTSThat's Steve Shepard, his new book, "Deadlines and Disruptions." We'll be back with your comments, your phone calls and John Micklethwait from The Economist. So stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. My guess this hour is Steve Shepard, Stephen B. Shepard. He is a longtime editor at Newsweek, Business Week, then created the journalism program at his alma mater The City University of New York. And his new book is called "Deadlines and Disruption: My Turbulent Path From Print to Digital."
ROBERTSAnd Steve Shepard, also joining us we have John Micklethwait. He's the editor-in-chief of The Economist magazine. He's written five books including "A Future Perfect: A Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization." John Micklethwait, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. JOHN MICKLETHWAITThank you very much for having me.
ROBERTSAnd we've been talking with Steve Shepard here about the whole question of what works, an eternal question debated endlessly in journalism circles. But one of the reasons why we wanted to have you on is that on a week when Newsweek basically gives up the ghost on its print publication and Superman goes digital, there's The Economist with circulation up, profits up. What's the secret?
MICKLETHWAITWell, firstly I should say I agree with a lot of stuff that Steve just said. I thought it was -- sounded incredibly accurate. I think in terms of why we've done well, he was very nice about our editorial quality but I think editorial quality is a bit like beauty. It's always in the eye of the beholder, though there's not enough editors to bang on about it.
MICKLETHWAITI think in terms of forces we've had on our side, which have been useful, globalization has been one. I think it's much easier to convince Americans that something interesting happening a long way away when it really matters to them. So you could live in Milwaukee but what happens in Mumbai could make a difference to your job. What happens in China could make a difference to your job. And what a lunatic did in a cave in Afghanistan a long time ago certainly made a difference to your life. It's been possible to say, look you need to know about these things.
MICKLETHWAITAnd the other big force is something we called mass intelligence, which sounds a bit glib. But the basic idea is that while a lot of people concentrate on the idea that the news media has been going downhill, in fact there's a -- have a bigger slice at the top. And actually again, Steve mentioned some of the magazines you look at. What the New Yorker's been doing under David Remnick, you look at all these other elements where there's a much bigger group of people at the top who want to get ideas as part of their diet if you want.
MICKLETHWAITAnd I don't think it's just magazines. You can look at HBO, you could look at mystery festivals, you can look at all these different things, like at the New York Times Bestseller list. There's a lot of people who want something more than just the ordinary and what they're looking for. And that's because more people are college educated, more people are going abroad. All those things I think mean there's a bigger audience for some degree of provocative ideas within their media mix.
ROBERTSWell, and frankly, I've always thought that the show that you're on right now, "The Diane Rehm Show," is very much a part of that trend and part of the reason why...
MICKLETHWAITI should've said that. That would've been a brilliant...
ROBERTSThat's all right. Happy to help you out there. One of the points you made though I'd like you to elaborate on because Steve and I both work at news magazines for a long time. I worked at U.S. News for seven years. And we knew that every time we put a foreign story on the cover our circulation would drop. Now, we did it because we felt obligated to do it.
ROBERTSBut what you're saying is is something slightly different, that with the globalization of the economy -- and of course The Economist has that special niche -- that economic stories are acquiring a global reach and a global impact that is expanding, if I'm hearing you correctly, the market for the kind of coverage that you're offering because of the global economy. And that's a very -- and does that change -- does this change things? Does that increase the audience for the kind of stuff you're doing?
MICKLETHWAITI think it -- well, two things. One, I slightly disagree with the thing that it was always a bad mistake to do this in the first place. I think people want to know things about what's happening. You can see quite a lot of things in the weekly news, your daily news, the things people listen to on the radio, the television. Well, if you can say, look you know, Egypt's in trouble, something might go wrong, that is a useful thing to throw into somebody's life.
MICKLETHWAITBut I think particularly at the moment you're right. I mean, if you look at say Barack Obama's reelection campaign, until Mitt Romney rediscovered personality, the main worries for Obama were the euro crisis and the possibility of Israel attacking Iran and the point of view the media's effect that would have on the American economy. So I think there's a lot of -- there's a lot more interlinked things out there that people want to know about. And I think that does on the whole help people who try to look at the world as a whole rather than just one bit of it.
ROBERTSInteresting point. Steve Shepard, what's your reaction to that point?
SHEPARDWell, I think it's probably more true today than several years ago that there's a stronger interest in international reporting in the United States, if only because of 9/11. I would say also that in terms of the newsstand question you raised, if you put an international story on the cover several years ago that it wouldn't do well, we never took that into consideration.
ROBERTSWe didn't either, but we knew it was true.
SHEPARDWe knew it was true, but, you know, the news magazines typically were -- less than 5 percent of their sales were on the newsstand. It was a -- these were subscriber-based magazines and so you were free to make a judgment about what the readers wanted to know. And you'd take a modest hit on the newsstand but it really didn't matter.
SHEPARDMy couple of other reactions, John, you know, when I was the editor of Business Week one of the things we envied about The Economist was the cache it seemed to have, particularly in the United States. And some of this of course was American's fascination with Brits and all things British are good. So -- and the magazine had a kind of intellectual cache that people liked. Do you think that that contributed to the success of The Economist, particularly in the United States?
MICKLETHWAITI think we've always had an advantage. I mean, the answer's it may do, yes. There's greater people like you for reasons you may not immediately want to be associated with. But the -- I think I would argue it slightly differently. I think that there was a slight advantage amongst news magazines and not being American. And I'll try and put it forward like this. If you look at any big issue around the world America is the factor involved. It's involved in what the future of China is, it's involved in where the Philippines is going, it's involved in Pakistan.
MICKLETHWAITI would love to make the same boast on behalf of the British and sometimes the British get the impression that they think it that way. But the answer's we don't have a dog in every fight in the way that America does. And so there was an advantage from the point of view covering international affairs that people not immediately thinking, oh, that's an American point of view or that's a (unintelligible) .
MICKLETHWAITAnd that's a sort of secondary advantage as well is that because Britain, again much that I love it, is not immediately interesting to people in Iowa as it should be. There was less of an immediate desire to focus on your home market. If you were running a big American magazine, you have such an amazing cornucopia of stories just within America. It was easy sometimes, I think, to focus more on America than the rest of the world. In fact, I think those two things were advantages looking back on it, which we were lucky with.
ROBERTSBoth interesting points, John. And by the way, I want to make sure I got your title -- he's editor-in-chief of The Economist, not just the American editor. And, John, pick up a point that Steve and I were talking about in terms of the economics here. One of the things that The Economist has been known for is trying to deliver its content, not just in that very familiar print package but on a variety of digital platforms. And talk about that element of your strategy.
MICKLETHWAITWell, when I first came in I saw the web as a huge challenge to magazines. This is sort of six, seven years ago. I saw the web as it had been like a hurricane that had swept through newspapers and was going to hit magazines next. And so we did start doing more stuff on the web and we started looking at it. But the interesting thing was -- at least to begin with, the web really didn't make a difference to the print magazine, or not in the same way. And there were two reasons why I think.
MICKLETHWAITThe first was because of the deluge of data, deluge of information. People quite like the idea of a weekly way of standing back and almost saying that these are the important things. You don't need to think about the other ones. But secondly, also -- and I'm sorry for using somewhat kind of a cliché way of looking at it -- we saw the internet as something which people leaned forward to read...
MICKLETHWAIT...if you think about it. People always grabbing. They were snacking. They were grabbing middle stories from here. By contrast a magazine -- you mentioned Business Week, you mentioned Time, you mentioned New Yorker, you mentioned us, those are the things which people read sitting back. You know, they-- they're lying on a sofa, they're lying on a bed, you know, they're traveling, they're doing something. It's a more reflective read.
MICKLETHWAITAnd so what was interesting about the Kindle and the iPad and digital tablets is that really moved into our space. And there was a particular time when I think it was (unintelligible) looked at an advert raffle and suddenly started counting the number of soles of people -- not the souls in the spiritual sense, although that would be wonderful at Apple -- it was the soles of their shoes. And you had people lying on hammocks looking at the iPad. You had people lounging on sofas looking at the iPad. And this was an experience much, much closer to the weekly thing that we offered in print. And so that made a big difference.
MICKLETHWAITAnd so that is something where we've just accepted that people are going to want to read, probably going forward evermore, in that digital format because it is very easy and it's very convenient. But we think that weekly products still works in that.
ROBERTSBecause they put their feet up.
MICKLETHWAITI think because they put their feet up is -- that would be a little bit more than I meant. But, yes, I think it is the same kind of experience. If you look at people reading -- and I do it myself -- if you sit there with an iPad you do tend to read it in bed, you do tend to read it in lots of places, where you wouldn't necessarily sort of flick through something on the web. The web is a sort of different experience.
MICKLETHWAITAnd the other bit, which again we tend to define and which I think you can see a bit from the success of the New Yorker on the iPad, is this idea that people like to read. And although you might think reading is the most elderly and most backward version of consuming media, actually if you really want to discover about something in as short a time as possible, reading is still the best and most effective way to do it.
MICKLETHWAITAnd you can see that. If I tried to describe to you what's happening in Syria I could show you 24 hours of video. But you probably wouldn't get as much out of reading four or five pages in a good magazine telling you exactly what is going on. And so it is a more efficient way. And within that parameters we think that's quite a strong future for the sort of thing that we and others do in digital.
ROBERTSNow let me ask you one other question and I'll get Steve's reaction, and that is revenues and pay walls. Steve made the point that there's some heartening news. It's hardly a new world but there's some heartening news about subscribers willing to pay at the New York Times for a metered system. What are you learning at The Economist about what works in terms of pay walls and revenue models?
MICKLETHWAITI think two things. On the digital product, on the tablet product, we've taken the decision that that's up to readers to choose. At the moment, I mean, in rough terms we say, you can have the digital version of The Economist for like $130 or you can have the print version for $130 or you can pay a bit more for having both. Because we think it's very, very important to attach the value to what we're trying to do. We think that the world is likely to go over more digital. But if it does go digital we want to keep on making sure that people are aware exactly what they pay for. So that's the tablet side of it.
MICKLETHWAITOnline, yes, we also went for metering and I -- everything that Steve said is absolutely true. And I think there's also -- if you don't do the metering level, if you do a very strict pay wall and don't allow people to come in at all I think it means you miss out on a lot of extra cover, a lot of extra people coming in to look at you.
MICKLETHWAITI mean, you could have -- it happens to us very regularly -- you could have a piece say about Sri Lanka advertising for an ad man or something wonderful and bizarre to do with animals. And a big search website like Yahoo will spot it and suddenly send 100, 200,000 people to go and look at it. Now out of those people who arrive some of them -- say 200,000 arrive -- maybe 5,000, 6,000 might be potential subscribers to The Economist.
MICKLETHWAITSo you want to make sure that they're -- they in the end would pay for it. but the rest of them are just people coming to look and see what it's like. And you don't want to block them being able to do it. And that might be the only time they visit your site that month, maybe that's six months. But it's useful for you to have them.
ROBERTSI'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Steve Shepard, your reaction to this.
SHEPARDWell, I agree with John about the metering and the pricing on the tablet. My main concern is what happens to advertising revenue on line and even on the tablet. Because what we've seen is that the ad rights are very, very low online, you know, the print dollars to digital dimes. In many cases it's digital pennies. And so how -- what do you think about how you're going to be able to charge for advertising on either the tablet or the online version of The Economist?
MICKLETHWAITWell, the immediate answer's fortunately, that's part of a bit like your not having to find -- all those years not having to worry about whether a cover would sell or not. And the same on advertising, I mostly kept well clear of it. But that said, there's no doubt in my mind that looking forward digital is somewhere where you should be able to make more money on circulation. By definition you're not having to deliver a print thing to people miles and miles away.
MICKLETHWAITImagine you're -- one example I use is Jimmy Carter, who very nicely of having reads at lunchtime on -- Thursday lunchtime on planes he sits and read on his iPad. And then the print copy of The Economist arrives I hope sometimes on Saturday and sometimes on Monday. The cost of delivering the second one to him is much greater than the cost of delivering the first one. So you hope to make more on the circulation side.
MICKLETHWAITBut you are right on the advertising. It's -- we don't know which way the advertising's going to go. There seems to be arguments. But it's -- you have print which is, as you said, the dollar and you have internet advertising which is the dime. I suspect it'll settle down somewhere in between but it's not likely to be the same rate as print ultimately. So that's not my job to sell it or I would leave it like that. But I do think you could make more on the circulation side to make up for that a bit.
SHEPARDAnd you're right. It's a higher profit margin revenue because you don't have to send them a print magazine to fulfill the subscription. So that's absolutely right. I wanted to ask just...
MICKLETHWAITI do think -- just to get one thing out -- I do think it's really important to make people at the end -- and you talked about it in terms of the newspapers around America to make readers pay something so they're aware that there is something of value there.
MICKLETHWAITAnd I think in the end that makes it easier with advertisers as well. It's possible then to turn around and say, look we have this group of people who are paying to get this product, which makes it more likely I think that they're going to be enjoying it and using it. And that I think makes difficult...
ROBERTSAnd spending more time with it because the key to advertisers is not just how many people click on your site but how long they stay. And it's clicks and sticks. So that's a very good point. You could say to an advertiser if these people are paying they're better targets for your advertising.
MICKLETHWAITI agree. I agree with that wholeheartedly. If you can -- the ability to also provide value I think is important from the point of a long term thing. All the things you talked about earlier about ethics, about independence, to be honest if you look forward for all the woes of the current decisions to deal with what's happening in this magazine or what's happening in this newspaper or people being laid off here or people being laid off there, if you go forward to mobile where it's more supported by circulation than advertising, to that extent I think that means there'll be less pressure on people to do things for reasons of independence.
ROBERTSInteresting point. Steve.
SHEPARDI wanted to ask a question. This is a slightly different question, but one of the things we always marveled at The Economist was the rather small size of the editorial staff compared to weekly magazines in the United States. First of all, is that still true and how do you do it? How do you put out such a good magazine with so few people?
MICKLETHWAITWe hire people who work through day and night.
SHEPARDWell, we do that too.
MICKLETHWAITI think the answer is it's evened up a bit. We used to be much smaller and I think there was a -- I think you should talk to the editors of the big American magazines. But I think they would agree that -- you both being them in different ways. But there was a time when I think people -- there was a degree of sort of flap on that side and we -- by the same token, we just kept on adding bureaus around the world.
ROBERTSJohn Micklethwait, thank you so much for joining us on "the Diane Rehm Show." He's editor-in-chief of The Economist, coauthor of five books including "A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization." Also with me, Steve Shepard. His book "Deadlines and Disruption: My Turbulent Path From Print to Digital." I'm Steve Roberts sitting in for Diane. We'll be back with your emails and your calls, so stay with us.
ROBERTSWelcome back. I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane. My guest this hour is Steve Shepard, former editor of Newsweek and of Business Week, and then the founding dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, and his Alma-Ata, the City University of New York. Steve Shepard has now written memoir and an analysis of the world of media today. His book is called "Deadlines and Disruption." And, Steve, I have some emails I wanted to read to you. And...
ROBERTS...this is actually a Tweet, so it's short, but it's to the point. "There is no future for print. It's go digital or die."
SHEPARDYou know, in the long run, I think that's probably right because, you know, I'm okay with that. If we end up all digital, which will be many years from now, I'm okay with that because we're not in the printing business. We're not in the paper business. We're in the journalism business. And as long as we can do quality journalism and deliver it on whatever platforms people want, that's okay with me. We just need to find a business model that's going to support online digitally the way it's supported print all the years.
ROBERTSAnd here's Brian writes, and since you worked for Newsweek particularly appropriate, "I subscribed to Newsweek for 30 years. I found it informative. Two or three years ago they changed format. It eliminated the weekly world news summary and quality articles on the economy, politics and lifestyle. I didn't renew my subscription. I now subscribe to Time. I'm happy with it."
SHEPARDYeah, I understand completely. You know, Newsweek's circulation went from three million down to about a million and a half. And I think they would've taken even lower had they stayed with print. The magazine did change, you're absolutely right. It became much more journal -- a magazine of commentary rather than reporting. And that was before Tina Brown. And I think that you're right, that that diminished the magazine, so I share your views.
ROBERTSAnd here's another Tweet that says, "The main reason --" it's long for Tweet, but I'll read it. "The main reason I gave up on print media, too many ads, not enough good content. Ads in print are one thing, but I won't have them littering my personal digital devices which are my personal property and I reserve the right to demand ad free content. If that means a magazine goes away in print and digitally, so be it."
SHEPARDWell, then you're going to have to pay a lot more if you want to read an ad free publication online. Because somebody's got to pay the bills. Somebody's got to support all the quality journals that you want to see, all the reporting, all the news bureaus. So you have to pay for it one way or another. I agree that there's a difference between having ads digitally on your cell phone or your computer than in print. They're more obtrusive digitally.
SHEPARDNow, what I'm hoping is that the tablet will present ads that are much more like the magazine ads we've been used to all these years. The photography, the video are rendered beautifully on a tablet computer. And they may make them. And if they're targeted to you and they're ads that you're more or less interested in, it may make it more acceptable to you.
ROBERTSBut we both I think share the view that free is not a business model.
SHEPARDYes, that's right.
ROBERTSAnd that good journalism -- and, look, again, last week on this station, it was the pledge drive. And what did people say over and over again? If you appreciate the quality, quality is expensive, you got to be willing to pay for it.
SHEPARDYeah, that's absolutely right.
ROBERTSNeil in Texas writes, "I admit, I look at a print newspaper only a few times a year, getting most of my news online. What I miss about print newspapers, however, is the turning the page and running across an article I wouldn't have seen otherwise. With the internet, it seems we mostly find what we're looking for by search engines. I feel this is making us a more myopic society knowing only what we search for with less opportunity to find something that we wouldn't know how to search for."
SHEPARDThat's absolutely a great point.
ROBERTSYeah, it is.
SHEPARDYou know, in the old days we would read newspapers and we turn the pages and we'd stop and read whatever interests us.
ROBERTSI call it the browse factor.
SHEPARDThe browse, the serendipity, that's right. We did it. Before there were browsers, we were browsing.
SHEPARDAnd we spent on average 45 minutes a day with our daily newspaper. On the web, the way people consume media is totally different. They come to read one article usually sent by a Google search or a Facebook friend and then they move on. On average they're spending only three minutes on that website. So the atomic unit of journalism, if you will, has changed from the newspaper to the individual article. And it's a little bit like buying the single song instead of the entire album. And something, you're right, is being lost.
ROBERTSWell, and the other dimension of this, and this was a very good comment by our listener about the browse factor, but the other dimension of this is shutting out viewpoints you don't agree with. You know, that this marvelous technology which can expand your world can also be used to limit it. You can program your tablet or your laptop to only give you commentators and analysts who reinforce your prejudices. And if you read a well edited op ed page in a paper like The Washington Post, you're everyday going to be challenged in your assumptions by someone who disagrees with you. And you lose that if you're not open to it.
SHEPARDYeah, I worry about that too. We need to be open minded to new views. If you're just going to read people who agree with you, you're not going to learn anything new.
ROBERTSLet's turn to some of our callers, Steve Shepard.
ROBERTSAnd let's start with Travis in Detroit, Mich. Welcome, nice to have you on "The Diane Rehm Show."
TRAVISThank you. Thank you. Great conversation. I think it's very relevant for today. And I've got a couple questions for your panel. First is that so we assume that if everybody switches to digital, there's got to be some kind of cost savings in terms of production, so I'm wondering if we can see those savings passed on to us as we pay for a digital subscription. I feel like a lot of us want to have that physical object and we don't mind paying the current price for it, but when we're just getting something on the internet, I feel like the value is diminished because I don't have the option to keep it for as long as I want and look back to it after a couple years, what have you.
TRAVISAnd as a follow up to that, that's one of the big downfalls of digital content today is that, you know, we're paying essentially for access, and if we choose to stop paying for access, we lose access to whatever we previously paid for. So do your guests have any method of reconciling that issue? And I'll take my comments off the air. Thank you.
ROBERTSThanks, Travis. Steve.
SHEPARDFirst of all, if you are -- let's talk about the metering system at most newspapers. If you are a subscriber, for example to The New York Times, you get the digital platforms free, all of them. So they're not charging you anything more. Some publications are charging more, as The Economist indicated, slightly more. But the other thing is that if you're not a subscriber to the print paper and you want the digital platforms, you pay less to get access than you do for a year's subscription to The New York Times. A good bit less. It's very expensive to buy The New York Times and have it delivered...
SHEPARD...every day. It's $600, $700 a year. And the digital platforms are nowhere near that expensive. So they are passing along some of the saving. The other thing you point out you're paying for access. That is true. But you're also paying for the editorial quality. You know, it costs something to have all those reporters. In the case of The Times, it's $200 million a year in their editorial budget. So somebody's got to cover those costs. You're right, it should be -- the cost should be a little lower. The price should be a little lower online because their costs are lower. But they've got to charge something.
ROBERTSAnd in terms of being able to go back for a couple of years, people are figuring out more efficient archive retrieval systems too. I mean, just last night I wanted to find an article I had written in The New York Times in 1968 and I found it. So you can do that too.
SHEPARDThat's right. The archives are readily available. And if you can't get there, you can go in through Google, find what you're looking for and they don't charge you for that in a metering system at The Times. They let access from search engines and social media come in free, so to stay part of the conversation, and to enable readers to retrieve things they want.
ROBERTSLet's talk to John in New Haven, Mo., is it, John? You've got an interesting perspective on this.
JOHNWell, I don't know if it's interesting. But I'm an antiques dealer. And one of the things that I sell are old magazines. And the most popular are pre World War II, 1930, 1940. And you almost always see the same reaction. Saturday I was wandering around the shop late. It was slowing down. And it was a grandfather and I assume his granddaughter. And she was looking at old 1942 Life magazine and he had an old Saturday Evening Post I think from 1940. And they were just absolutely absorbed.
JOHNAnd I walked up and said, pretty cool, aren't they? And they just went, oh, my God, they're wonderful. And that's the reaction that's common for anyone who buys an old magazine or something along those lines. And I think you are going to lose some of that.
ROBERTSAbsolutely. John, thanks. I was right, it was an interesting call. I appreciate it, John. What's your reaction, Steve Shepard?
SHEPARDWell, yes, I know exactly what you mean. I have some old Life magazines, some old Fortune, some old New Yorkers and they are wonderful, but it's sort of like saying old cars are wonderful, too. You know, the Duisenberg and the Cord and the Auburn were wonderful and we all are amazed when we see one or see pictures of it, but it's not the reality of today's world. So, you know, it's keep your business going because a lot of us love these old magazines.
ROBERTSBut one of the things that the caller I think was reflecting was something we haven't really talked very much about, and that's photography. And one of the great values of those old magazines was the quality of the still photography which you could look at and look at again and come back to. And talk about the role of photography in this new digital world.
SHEPARDWell, I think, you know, there's famous names in the past, Life magazine and Fortune photographers, Walker Evans among them, and that was great, but, you know, there is a revival of photography now. Digital photography makes things a lot easier, a lot less expensive. The equipment is fabulous and you can do all things with them, including sending them around to your friends. So photography is going to play a big role, and video also in the digital age on these magazines that are on tablets. So I'm all for it.
SHEPARDThe other point I wanted to make just about our friend from the antique business who sells old magazines, the other factor that's at work there is nostalgia.
SHEPARDYou know, you just love those old Life magazines because you remember, you know, what the world was like.
ROBERTSThere are probably not a lot of young people browsing those magazines, unless with their grandfather says, this is what it was like, son. Let's turn to Samantha in Arlington, Va. Samantha, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
SAMANTHAHi, how are you doing?
ROBERTSWelcome. What's on your mind?
SAMANTHAWell, I heard that -- if I heard it right, the gentleman said something about being myopic where people focus on searching for and looking for articles that they are homing in on, which is absolutely 100 percent true. I'm that way too. But in going to the two NPR and CNN and various other little things I have on my Yahoo homepage, it has me looking for reading an article. There's usually a little thing at the bottom or like a side bar and it's got a list of all these other articles.
SAMANTHAAnd it's like even though I'm looking for something and I find it and I read it, I glance over and I'm looking at all these other articles that are posted. And it's like I go to them because then I see something that I never thought of before or didn’t think of before or, oh, hey, that's interesting. I was thinking about that and I find it. So it was like even though you're on the internet and you're focusing on a particular topic or subject or maybe, you know, something in the news or homework or something like that, but you have all these other articles that are listed and...
SAMANTHA...you have the opportunity to look at them and go, oh, wow.
ROBERTSRight. Thank you. That's a very good perspective. And let me just do a break here. I'm Steve Roberts and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Now, at your school, at City University, you've made a bit effort to focus on this digital world. And one of your professors, Jeff Jarvis, who you hired is the guru on this whole world of linking and the dimension of how this adds to the read experience and the importance of linking in this new media environment. So respond to our caller.
SHEPARDYeah, what Jeff says is that we used to live in a content economy and now we live in a link economy, because you can go and find things and link to them. And when you're there, you're right, there are other links at the bottom of the page, in many cases, that send you even for more information. So I think that this is also -- this link economy is the -- could be the salvation of local newspapers in big cities. Because if they -- another one of Jeff Jarvis' aphorisms is do what you do best and link to the rest.
SHEPARDAnd so local newspapers, if they concentrate on what no one else can do and what they do really well and stuff that's not easily duplicated on the web is local reporting, and if they do that really, really well and become a platform for their local communities by providing all kinds of information and link to the rest. You know, they don't need a movie critic. There are a lot of movie criticism on the web. Link to it.
SHEPARDYou don't even need an overseas bureau system in many cases because the BBC and the Guardian and The New York Times and NPR and the Reuters and AP and Bloomberg all do a lot of international reporting. Curate what's the best from those newspapers, put them on your site if you think they're relevant to our readers and concentrate your editorial resources on what you do best, which in the case of Metropolitan Daily is local reporting.
ROBERTSIt's a very important point because it starts to -- one of the answers to something we've been talking about all morning, which is how do you survive with shrinking resources. And it doesn't make sense Jarvis argues to duplicate, spend scarce resources duplicating what's available elsewhere. Focus what you have on the things that really provide value for your readers.
SHEPARDYeah, the revenue just isn't going to be there to do all these things and be all things to all people. That day is over.
ROBERTSLet's turn to Christine in Sugar Land, Texas. Christine, welcome, you're on "The Diane Rehm Show."
CHRISTINEOh, hey, hi.
CHRISTINEListen, I think there's an economic elitism that is being avoided here. Okay. Not everybody has access to or utilizes their digital devices, in fact, for anything other than socialization. And I think that with print, the portability of print, the peripheral vision that, in fact, your previous person was just talking about with linking on digital, well, with our peripheral vision, when we're walking past a news stand or when we're looking at print, we do notice stories that expand our knowledge and, in fact, that would expand the audience because indeed news stands still do play a place.
CHRISTINEWhereas when you're targeting or personalizing a viewer saying so aptly before through digital, what we're doing, it's just euphemism for preconceived pandering to what we know, as opposed to what we can learn.
ROBERTSChristine, thanks so much for the call. Steve Shepard.
SHEPARDWell, I think you're partly right. There are people who will go on and look for things that they want to hear, rather than what they might use to expand their horizons. But it's also true, look, we all use the web and we go looking for things that don't pander to our preconceived notions. So I think it's up to the individual to use the technology in a way that is beneficial. You're right that the peripheral vision, the adjacency in newspapers, you look to read one thing and there's something next to it that really appeals to you, you didn't think about it.
ROBERTSWe talked about that browse factor.
SHEPARDYeah, the browses, the serendipity experience. That is an unfortunately consequence of this new world. That's right.
ROBERTSFinal thought, if you were, you know, someone applies to journalism school and this is -- or their parent says, why should I send my kid to journalism school? You know, it's a dying industry. What do you say?
SHEPARDOh, that's an easy one. What I say to the parents or to the students is what do you want to be in life? Do you have a passion for journalism? We look for the same things in these young people that was true in our generation, Steve. And if they have a passion for journalism, I say to the parents, you want your -- you want your child to be happy and do what they want to do. If they want to be journalist, come to Graduate School of Journalism, it's great.
ROBERTSThanks so much. That's Steve Shepard. His new book "Deadlines and Disruption: My Turbulent Path from Print to Digital." I'm Steve Roberts sitting in today for Diane while she's away at a station visit in Syracuse. Thank you so much for spending part of your morning with us.
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