Read the “Future of Newspapers” transcript from Charlie Rose’s show
"CHARLIE ROSE" PANEL DISCUSSES THE FUTURE OF NEWSPAPERS/FEB. 11
Tonight, we begin a new series on the future of newspapers. The industry is facing a critical time of uncertainty. Television, the Internet and other new technologies have caused a great shift in the media landscape. Newspapers are struggling to adapt. Overall revenues have fallen three years in a row. These numbers could reach double digits this year. Many advertisers have fled print for the Web.
Last December, the Tribune Company, which owns the L.A. Times and The Chicago Tribune filed for bankruptcy.
Yet thanks to the Internet, more people read news stories today than ever before. Editors and publishers are searching for ways to profit in the digital age.
Joining me now is Robert Thomson. He's the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Also, Mort Zuckerman. He is owner and publisher of the New York Daily News and the editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report, a magazine he owns. With me in Washington is Walter Isaacson. He is president and CEO of the Aspen Institute. He's also the author of this week's cover story in Time magazine called, "How to Save Your Newspaper: A Modest Proposal." I should also suggest that Walter was formerly the editor of Time magazine.
And I begin with you, Walter. Tell me how bad is it, from all the surveys that you took in putting this piece together, and what's a modest proposal?
WALTER ISAACSON, ASPEN INST.: I think it's pretty bad, because I think we've realized after the fourth quarter of last year in which Web advertising for newspapers started to decline, that Web advertising wasn't going to continue to shoot up and form a business model where you could keep giving away newspapers for free online and hope that Web advertising would support it.
I don't think that business model is ever going to work. And that, as Dr. Johnson would say, should concentrate our minds wonderfully.
I compliment The Wall Street Journal, because they have a model where they get revenue from a variety of sources, including people who subscribe online. They don't just give everything away for free.
And so, I think we need to look at a variety of ways in which journalism, and for that matter music, as Steve Jobs has done with iTunes, or video or blogs or anything else, when people form -- create good content, they find a way to get paid for it.
One way of adding to the mix of how you get paid for it is if there were micro payments, where people had sort of like an EZ Pass or an iTunes card, where if you wanted a magazine that week, you could pay a quarter and it would just come out of your account.
But that's not the only way you can do it. It's just one of many ways I think we are going to have to look to make sure that we get over this notion that content has to be free.
CHARLIE ROSE: Your analysis as a newspaper owner and publisher.
MORT ZUCKERMAN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: You know, I have a problem in the world of business, whether it be real state or newspapers, and that is it's called realism.
CHARLIE ROSE: Well, let me tell you what I understand about this...
MORT ZUCKERMAN: There is no possibility of being able to introduce that at this stage of the game. And by the time that ever gets to be effective, in terms of revenue, we could be dead if that's what we're depending upon.
So we have taken a very different approach. I don't think at this
stage of the game that is a realistic approach.
CHARLIE ROSE: What is a realistic approach?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Either charging for the content on the Web or doing it in micro payments. I mean, I think it's a wonderful idea, if it would be possible. I just don't think it is. The market will simply not accept it.
WALTER ISAACSON: Haven't you felt that way about music a couple of years ago, Mort, that nobody would ever pay for music?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: I don't know whether I would have felt that way about music since I'm not a music producer. All I can say is that I listen to music. I don't care how I pay for it. But that's a very different -- and different kind of thing. It's a discretionary kind of thing.
This to my mind is not something quite as discretionary. All I can say to you, it is inconceivable to me that we'll find a way -- and we've tried in various ways, particularly in special segments, of what the U.S. News does.
And I would point out that, look at Time magazine. What it's got, 56 pages? You can't get a thinner version of a newspaper today...
CHARLIE ROSE: And Newsweek is announcing this week they're changing format because they can't live under the old format.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Right. And U.S. News is the same thing. We're faced with a double crisis now. One is, we have a tremendous economic decline now that is causing a lot of advertisers to withdraw or reduce their advertising, dramatically, particularly since we have a consumer-led recession at this stage of the game. So you're going to see a major decline in advertising that I believe is going to continue through this year and maybe for several years.
But the other thing is, as implicit in that and in Walter's suggestion, is that you have a fundamental change in the technology of the dissemination of news. And that's the Internet, and that has taken a tremendous bite out of not necessarily the readership of the magazines, but at least of the advertisers who have moved on to the Web, because that seems to be the area where the audience is expanding dramatically.
CHARLIE ROSE: But right now, if you know what you know now, would you have bought The Daily News?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely, I would.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, number one, we were able to turn The Daily News into quite a profitable enterprise, at least until this year, and we have plans for returning it to being profitable, which we believe will happen by the end of this year, because we have new presses that are coming on, which will do two things...
CHARLIE ROSE: I thought you just told me this was a terrible business to be in.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: I committed to the new presses out of sheer passion 18 months ago, or almost 18 months ago, and they will be installed by the end of this year. They will dramatically increase our revenues, because we'll have all color, and this will increase our advertising revenues, and it will also increase our circulation, because it will be a completely
transformed visual product.
Now, if you want me to tell you that newspapers today are a profitable business, and I would do -- invest a lot in newspapers, the answer is no. But I own The Daily News and I'm determined to keep The Daily News going because my daughter, who is 11, is now committed to be the next publisher.
CHARLIE ROSE: She's agreed?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: She's agreed. She liked the working conditions. She liked the demands.
CHARLIE ROSE: And she liked...
MORT ZUCKERMAN: She said...
CHARLIE ROSE: She liked her potential share of the ownership.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right. Here's The Wall Street Journal, owned for many, many, many years by the Bancroft family. Rupert Murdoch and Newscorp comes in and buys it. They bring you in from England, where you had a perfectly nice and interesting job. And you take over The Wall Street Journal, a national newspaper. How do you see the problem?
ROBERT THOMSON, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: For us, it's not so much a problem. You have to make a distinction between general newspapers, where you're seeing creative destruction digitally compressed and a commoditization of content. And that's why people aren't paying, because they can't make a distinction.
And I think micro payments might work for general content, but readers have to -- who are eclectic (ph), they're digitally nondenominational, they have never had more choice than now. They have to understand why they're paying for something. And in our case, business readers can. Businessmen and business women are forking out a lot of money every year to read The Wall Street Journal online, and at the same time, sales of the print edition are increasing quite significantly.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Now, there's one other important thing, and the reason for that is they can charge that against -- as a business expense, which is not what you can do for The Daily News. But it is, by the way, a phenomenally better paper since this guy has taken over the leadership of that paper, but in addition to that, it is something that's tax deductible, and that helps. A lot of business people will subscribe to it at the office and it gets a wider readership as a result of that, and it's now such a much more lively and more interesting paper, that that's going to din.
Having said that, their advertising has got to have dropped off the end of the table. At least if I can follow it by looking at the paper. Not because of the quality of the paper, just because of the fundamentals of the advertising market and the economy.
ROBERT THOMSON: I don't think we jumped off the edge. This is a roundtable.
ROBERT THOMSON: To be honest, last week, bad week. This week, up on budget. So it's very fluky. Very, very difficult to read the advertising market.
Mort is right. What you're seeing was a decline last year, which we all hoped in the autumn would end this year. There is still a decline. But there are still opportunities out there for people who are constantly reviewing their strategy. Because one of the problems we have is that people are debating micro payments theories from a decade ago.
CHARLIE ROSE: Explain micro payments. Even though Walt started to talk about it.
ROBERT THOMSON: Well, essentially, it can work several ways. One, we can have your details -- we can have your credit card and we can charge you monthly for a subscription. Or I think the idea that Walter is expounding is....
CHARLIE ROSE: And Michael Kinsley in today's New York Times.
ROBERT THOMSON: Doesn't agree. It is that for an article, an article that you're interested in or a collection of articles that you'd open your e-purse and pay.
Now, there is absolutely no doubt that it's getting much easier to charge people in that manner, and there's absolutely no doubt that people are much more comfortable paying that way. Whether they will pay for a content that is now free is the question.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK. Did you guys consider for a moment moving off the model that you had...
ROBERT THOMSON: Well, more than for a moment, but...
ROBERT THOMSON: But we looked at it from every angle. Because people in the digital world actually are some of the most conservative, curmudgeonly types now, because they're still having these digital debates from a decade ago.
People in the digital world were encouraging us to do so, because advertising was going to grow exponentially. Regardless of how much inventory, how many stores were created on the web. That's just -- and we could see then that that wasn't going to happen.
And so, we liked the subscriber model, and now we love the subscriber model, but...
CHARLIE ROSE: Yeah. And it's a wave of the future, so to speak?
ROBERT THOMSON: But one of the -- Google -- I mean, the harsh way of just defining it, Google devalues everything it touches. Google is great for Google, but it's terrible for content providers, because it divides that content quantitatively rather than qualitatively. And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.
CHARLIE ROSE: And Google doesn't do that.
ROBERT THOMSON: Google doesn't do that.
CHARLIE ROSE: Walter, do you agree with that? Google?
WALTER ISAACSON: I agree. And also, what Google does is it allows ads to be spread all over the Web. You can go to Google ad servers and put ads on any site there is. So you have a huge inventory of advertising sites, I mean places where people can place ads, and the declining amount of ad dollars. Which is why I think the basis premise I'm trying to push is that relying only on advertising dollars is, as Henry Luce once said, economically self-defeating, and it actually destroys your bond with the reader, because you're chasing the advertiser and not trying to do what Mr. Thomson just said, which is distinguish yourself for your reader.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, not on the Web perhaps, but I have to say, you have to distinguish yourself for the reader in terms of the print product. At least that's still is a part of it. And bear in mind, a lot of the stuff that you read on the Web comes directly from the print product, and that's where most of the best stuff on the Web comes from. And so that is still...
MORT ZUCKERMAN: I'm sorry?
WALTER ISAACSON: At least people should pay for it if they're going to point to it or aggregate it or use it in their blogs or whatever.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: It's interesting, though, I was on a panel with the head of Ogilvy & Mather just last week, and she was saying that they're still not convinced -- the advertisers are still not convinced that advertising on the Web really is persuasive and sells, the way it does, for example, in print, and particularly on television, she was saying. So...
CHARLIE ROSE: What do you think about that?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, I mean, you know, I have to in a sense rely on people. The one thing I will say is that our Web revenues are going up, and going up considerably, as is our audience going up dramatically. But our advertising, either in the newsweekly except -- the only thing it works in the newsweekly, for example, for us are those issues where we have the best of the best colleges and the best graduate schools, the best -- that people really, both advertisers and readers, pile on to. But that's because it's unique. You can't get it anywhere else. So that issue of quality in that sense -- it's not a news quality, because news, it's very, very difficult to have news that differentiates itself from everybody else. I mean, The Wall Street Journal could do it. But what we were able to do at U.S. News -- and we did start it for that reason -- was to provide what we called news you can use, that you can't get anywhere else, and now we have the brand in that sector, and that really gives us a real pull for advertisers. Otherwise, it's really hugely difficult.
ROBERT THOMSON: I think Mort is on to something. Dead trees are definitely not dead. There is no doubt that in the modern age of content relationships, there is absolute intensity in the relationship between a reader and a newspaper. Now, given the Web surfing, ad skipping, channel changing consciousness that's out there, the idea of spending 30 minutes with any medium, with -- and the only multitasking you're doing is drinking a cup of coffee, that does make newspapers unique. And actually if you talk to ad people, they're starting to recognize that.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right. Walter, tell me the difference between local newspapers like the L.A. Times and like the Chicago Tribune and like The Miami Herald, and I could go down the list, and national newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
WALTER ISAACSON: I think local newspapers are particularly important to try to save. And I would go to, you know, places like The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, my hometown. That's an incredibly important newspaper, and nobody else is doing the type of journalism -- it's not commodity news when they're covering the mayor, the city hall, the type of news that you really need to be a good citizen of your community. And I find it incomprehensible that these local newspapers are saying, we still want you to subscribe to us, but we will give you the newspaper for free on the Web, even if you don't subscribe.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: I don't think we have much choice, Walter, I really don't. I don't see how we're going to be able to charge people. I mean, we like -- the Daily News, I feel, is -- with all due respect to other local newspapers who may be affiliated with certain people sitting at this table -- I really think we are New York City's local paper. And you know, we have an audience, frankly, that reads the newspaper. Our readership has stayed up there, quite remarkably, I think, and that's the interesting thing.
We have been deserted by advertisers, that's the problem. And we are going to -- that has been such a critical part of the business model. I don't know if there is another business model. We think there is for the Daily News for various reasons, including the fact that we are going to be able both to increase revenues and reduce costs through new presses. But short of that, I tell you, I think it's going to be very, very tough for a lot of papers.
CHARLIE ROSE: But you're saying maybe the only thing that your new business model has in it is a better printing press and a cheaper printing press?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, it's not -- yes, well, it's more efficient. We don't like to call it cheaper.
CHARLIE ROSE: I understand.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Thank you very much. It's just an important difference. Words are important to me (ph).
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, they are.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: But I think it will attract more advertising, because you get a color premium for -- you get a premium from advertisers if you have color. And we had very little color in our paper.
CHARLIE ROSE: Most people would hear you say that, and they would say, you know, he doesn't -- with all due respect, you don't get it.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Yes.
CHARLIE ROSE: He thinks he can just change the nature of the printing, and therefore he is going to solve the big problems of newspapers, he's dreaming.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: No, no, no, that's not the only part of it. There's also a hugely -- there's a huge cost benefit of new presses, which are much, much faster. I can do -- I'll be able to do with three presses what I was doing with nine presses. That's a huge cost savings in addition to the revenue side of it.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is society, civilization at risk here in some way? I don't want to overdo this, if newspapers somehow become very different, and are threatened, if they can't adjust to a new model?
ROBERT THOMSON: Look, there's clearly a social role for good journalism. And the newspaper traditionally has almost been the village square of content. You shared an experience. And I think it's not just a question of is there -- is society threatened. It's, you know, where -- what is the provenance of information that society is sharing? Because there is that great varying veracity of information that people access on the Web. And you know if it's a story in The Journal or in Time magazine or in Mort's paper or magazine, you know where the story comes from. You have a sense of its authenticity.
But back to the qualitative/quantitative distinction. People on the Web are not making those qualitative distinctions. They're being socialized in a different way to the people engaged in this conversation.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is that healthy or not?
ROBERT THOMSON: Well, look, I don't think -- there's a great tendency for journalists to be high and mighty, and to underestimate the intelligence of readers. And I think one of the reasons they're losing readers is for that very reason. But what you can certainly say, is that it's a different upbringing. And what will be the long-term social consequence of that? I don't know.
But newspapers will have an ongoing role. Clever people, clever newspapers will understand that the Web-newspaper relationship is one of complementary content, that you have to work the Web.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Right, right.
ROBERT THOMSON: It's not just replacement theory. Every newspaper is of itself a great brand, and to have brand value on the Web is to have a great advantage.
CHARLIE ROSE: The old media-new media distinctions are fastly becoming irrelevant, Walter?
WALTER ISAACSON: I think they are, and I think what's particularly true in new media is that we're getting citizen journalists, bloggers, that are adding immensely to the wealth of information that we have. And in the sense of getting paid for content, I don't think it just applies to saving the old media. I think what you are trying to do is incent good, decent people who want to cover their town planning meeting or become citizen journalists or write blogs that are actually worth reading. You want them to be able to do it not just as an ego kick or as a hobby or as a civic contribution, but have people who have to put food on their table be able to afford to be citizen journalists, afford to be good bloggers.
And that's another reason, I think, it would be useful if we started to move to the concept that if people are producing good things, whether it's music or applications or blogs or video, people ought to be able to pay a quarter or a dollar for it on the Web, instead of thinking it's all got to be free.
CHARLIE ROSE: This is the iPod model, so to speak.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: We're ready to be the second or third newspaper that does that, Walter.
CHARLIE ROSE: But not the first.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Not the first.
CHARLIE ROSE: When you look at the quality of newspapers, are they different today than they were five years ago, 10 years ago?
ROBERT THOMSON: Well, they vary by country and they vary by city within country. I think what you are seeing is that the big city papers in the U.S. are greatly diminished in quality. They are greatly diminished in range. They don't have as many foreign correspondents. Frankly, that's a great opportunity forvThe Wall Street Journal, not only in this country, but globally.
And one thing to remember is, if you create a piece of content, the beauty of the Web is that you can repurpose it many times. For example, just this week, we launched a Europe wsj.com. We launched an Asia wsj.com. We also launched and India wsj.com. That has basically the same content, but rearranged in a different way to suit those audiences.
CHARLIE ROSE: And therefore more appealing to advertisers in each of those different places.
ROBERT THOMSON: Exactly. So you can actually generate revenue several times over...
CHARLIE ROSE: With the same news.
WALTER ISAACSON: Absolutely. And I may be wrong in the ideas of micro payment, but what you just said is the operative idea. When you get more and more of that information online -- right now we're discussing whether or not Hamas will be able to take over and has been helped by the Gaza invasion or whatever. I want an Ethan Bronner of The New York Times, who knows what he's talking about there, because that's where I'm going to get my information, and I'm going to get it online. That's the way I read The New York Times. But I don't -- I want to make sure somebody can pay to send him there. I don't want to have to rely on people I don't know, who are blogging from heaven knows where and pretending to know what's happening in the Gaza strip.
CHARLIE ROSE: Just to add another name to the mix, this broadcast is taped at -- it's done at Bloomberg. Does Bloomberg have a significant advantage in terms of the future of news gathering because it has an economic resource that is different from many?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Different business model.
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes, business model, that's what I mean.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: So therefore, it can be hiring foreign correspondents.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: And therefore, as it does that, it will enhance its
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: Or not?
ROBERT THOMSON: But for the general reader, Bloomberg is nice to have, occasionally -- not as nice as wsj.com obviously -- but at the same time, that's not its reason for being. Bloomberg is a professional service for professional...
CHARLIE ROSE: Most of its revenue comes from selling terminals.
ROBERT THOMSON: Virtually all of the revenue comes from selling terminals. It's nice to have a TV station, it's nice to have a Web presence, but that's not its raison d'etre.
CHARLIE ROSE: What's the significance of being on Kindle, which is Amazon's device for reading books and getting online stuff? What's the difference in that and simply reading it on the computer screen? What's the difference?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Well, you may be able to charge for it. You may be able to charge for it differently. You may be able to charge for it on the basis of use, which is the way you do for books now with Kindle.
CHARLIE ROSE: Walter.
WALTER ISAACSON: The Kindle is truly wonderful. So is the Magic Plastic and all the things coming out. And it means that wirelessly, wherever you are, you can get that -- a beautiful display of the newspaper.
The main thing I think we've got to do is prevent us from giving it away for free on the Kindles and the new devices, just like we gave it away for free on the Web. We've got one more shot at it with these new devices coming. Let's make some really cool newspapers and really cool applications we can put on it that we can actually charge for.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK. So your central point in this entire conversation is that it's all going digital, but you've got to figure out a way to charge for it...
ROBERT THOMSON: ... with the same news.
CHARLIE ROSE: This seems to be obvious, Walter. We're going to get more of our information online, period. I mean, that's the operative idea everybody has to deal with. And then they've got a secondly, with that operative idea, figure out how to generate revenue with it.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: For the content.
CHARLIE ROSE: ... because Mort has made the point -- content, yes. It's all going digital...
CHARLIE ROSE: You have to find a way to charge for it.
WALTER ISAACSON: We cannot be totally dependent on advertising. You've got to be depending on your readers wanting you. And with these new digital devices like the Kindle, if you can make a cool enough application that people really want, then I think you can charge for it.
CHARLIE ROSE: Here's another idea about the Kindle, because you can put all those books on there and you can get them for 9.99. People are saying that's going to change publishing. A technological device is going to change publishing.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think...
WALTER ISAACSON: But it also allows for every book to be available. I think there are 360,000 books now in the Amazon digital library. And this is wonderful. I mean, it is just expanding our ability to get information. And those of us who write books, we're going to start writing for the Kindle. So if I am writing about Louis Armstrong, I can put music in the book. I can allow people to be interactive with the book.
CHARLIE ROSE: That's a good idea.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Even now, I mean, we think very differently about how we present the Daily News on the Web than we do now to present it on -- in print.
CHARLIE ROSE: Because the connoisseur looks at it differently...
MORT ZUCKERMAN: They look at it differently.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: The stories to some extent have to be written differently, because it's a very different kind of medium. And I'm sure if you're thinking about the Kindle, we're going to be thinking differently again.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right. Walter...
WALTER ISAACSON: Charlie...
CHARLIE ROSE: Yes.
WALTER ISAACSON: ... in Time magazine this week, the one where I've written some, thereÃ¢€â„¢s anther great story by Josh Quittner, who writes about the type of applications we can do as journalists on these new digital devices when they come along. So it's not just making the pictures different or making it more visual. It's entire small applets that can do things, be of service. And I think that's what we have to look for in the next generation of journalism on the Kindle and other electronic readers.
CHARLIE ROSE: Here is the cover story, Time magazine, "How To Save Your Newspaper: A Modest Proposal" by Walter Isaacson.
This last question. You know, we all sit around here and talk about the present economic environment, and everybody who comes to this table says, yes, we're going to see other bank failures. Are we going to be seeing newspapers fail?
MORT ZUCKERMAN: For sure.
CHARLIE ROSE: Is that your next book, Walter?
WALTER ISAACSON: I'm not sure.
CHARLIE ROSE: Connecting the dots is one of my ideas, one of my
ROBERT THOMSON: I think the thing to remember is that we are freezing a frame of evolution. That we're talking about the Kindle now -- the Kindle or a similar device in five years' time is going to be very, very different. And the task for editors and for publishers is to anticipate what those devices are going to be like. Because journalists historically haven't done a very good job of anticipating those social changes. Instead of being a part of their community, they've existed in a kind of splendid isolation, being self-referential and self-reverential. So -- and how are people going to access information in the future? There is still an opportunity for people who attempt to think ahead.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK, but I mean, let's assume you know how to do that.
ROBERT THOMSON: Well, you're asking the wrong person.
CHARLIE ROSE: OK. Because I mean, that's what we really want to know, before we leave this conversation. If you think ahead, what does it tell you? What is it -- give me some...
ROBERT THOMSON: Different formats. Different looks. To understand that a young person today has been socialized visually in a totally different manner to the way we've been socialized. Their level of visual acuity is much more sophisticated.
WALTER ISAACSON: We're going to see major cities in this...
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: Wait, one at a time.
MORT ZUCKERMAN: Particularly those newspapers, for example, that have high levels of debt on them. I mean, I think they're going to be unsustainable without a lot of capital infusion from the outside, either from the owner or from somebody else. There are going to be any number of newspapers that are going to go under.
WALTER ISAACSON: If we don't do something, we're going to have cities in this country that no longer have a local newspaper, and we're going to have major newspapers, news organizations, magazines and networks that have two or three correspondents at most. This is not good for, you know, the country.
CHARLIE ROSE: Thank you, Walter Isaacson. Robert Thomson, Mort Zuckerman.
This is the beginning of a series about this. We will talk to people in communities, we'll talk to people at other newspapers, and we'll talk to reporters and connoisseurs of the news to get different perspectives on this.