Abramson: ‘Decades from now, the quality newspapers that remain may not be literally on paper’


In the Spring 2010 issue of Daedalus, The New York Times' Jill Abramson wrote about sustaining quality journalism during challenging times. As she becomes executive editor of the paper of record, her beliefs about the future of news may foreshadow the direction taken by the New York Times.

On journalism's future:

Decades from now, the quality newspapers that remain may not be literally on paper. They may be on portable tablets or some other device we haven’t yet envisioned. But journalism will continue to thrive.

My optimism is based on the fact that there is a human craving for trustworthy information about the world we live in – information that is tested, investigated, sorted, checked again, analyzed, and presented in a cogent form.

Yet people don’t crave just information. They seek judgment from someone they can trust, who can ferret out information, dig behind it, and make sense of it. They want analytic depth, skepticism, context, and a presentation that honors their intelligence. They want stories that are elegantly told and compelling, with quality pictures and videos.

And they want to be part of the conversation.

On the Times' use of the Web:

While the Web has added to the workload of many in our newsroom, it has also excited and broadened our staff, who have learned to tell stories in new ways. For our journalists based abroad, the Web has given an immediacy and greater impact to their work that goes
beyond the satisfaction of seeing their articles in print.

For example, when the Times published a recent investigative series on Putin’s Russia, the articles were translated into Russian simultaneously so that readers there could dissect the stories and post their comments, which were translated back into English on the Times’ site. So the Web does, quite literally, democratize the news.

Quality journalism is produced on many platforms.

On citizen journalists:

...when millions of voices boom on the Web, there is also space for rumor, incorrect facts, and just plain nonsense. Amateur citizen-journalists sometimes do not have the skills and background to produce the most accurate journalism. Newspapers, with professional reporters and editors, still account for breaking the vast majority of important news stories, and some websites and bloggers are mainly drawing from news already published by newspapers.

On the new business model:

Our challenge, then, is to find a business model that suits Web-based journalism while sustaining quality journalism. ...

Everywhere, the self-assured prophets of journalism are spouting their proclamations: readers will never pay for news on the Web; readers must pay for news on the Web. Journalism must find a way to generate more profits; journalism must become a nonprofit.

Anyone who claims to have a silver bullet solution isn’t playing straight. There isn’t one answer that will save every news organization. ...

It is time to move past all the shouting over which platform or which business model is best and to join in an urgent and collective effort to protect what matters most: quality journalism and the journalists who create it.


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