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Festival of Books: Newsmakers on newspapers

April 28, 2009 | 11:35 am


Saturday's panel on "The Future Of News" featured Slate Group Editor in Chief Jacob Weisberg, USC Annenberg School of Journalism director Geneva Overholser and Los Angeles Times Editor Russ Stanton. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR’s Los Angeles correspondent, fresh from cuts that swept through NPR West’s offices was the moderator.

Overholser started things off by making a case for the future of her business: the academy. “This is a crisis of the economic model of journalism,” she said, noting that the functional model of journalism and the skills required to practice it remain relatively unchanged. “Journalism schools should be like law schools, in which you learn skills that can affect a number of different fields."

Weisberg, who started with Slate under the late-‘90s editorial flag of Michael Kinsley, was energetic and confident as only a man who got into the Web early can be. He noted that the art of the blogger, of writing without editors and copy editors, was a “high-wire act” but that it worked to produce less error. “You know you’re not going to get away with anything on the Web. Someone is going to catch that mistake.”

Weisberg compared print journalists to Medieval monks after the first Bible was printed; that we as a society are in the unique position of getting news and information disseminated without the help of the “priestly class.”

Addressing the audience, Weisberg explained that the media communityhas "confused the economic problem (which is our problem) with the democratic problem (which is your problem)."   Still, Weisberg acknowledged, Web-only sites such as Slate and others “in no way substitute for the primary news organs.”

Cue Russ Stanton, from the Los Angeles Times. What he said ... after the jump.

Stanton said that he avoided the use of the “p” word in discussions, referring to The Times as a “multimedia organization” instead of a “paper.”

Stanton acknowledged, “We have to work more closely with the business side to find out what kinds of audiences our advertisers are chasing.” He stressed that there were no advertisers in the newsroom.

Although the idea of having a news summit among the major media organizations was mentioned, it was not taken very seriously. Stanton pointed out that if most papers simultaneously agreed to institute a paywall, the one or two papers that didn't would stand to reap all the benefits, not to mention the risk of violating antitrust laws.

New models of aggregation (www.everybock.com) and community-sponsored journalism (www.kachingle.com) were discussed as possible micro-models of how individual payments could help sponsor journalism. Weisberg did note that, from a business standpoint, "news aggregation is a better model than actual news creation," especially with the "element of hysteria" that websites such as the Huffington Post and Drudge Report bring to the conversation.

-- George Ducker

Photo: Russ Stanton, left, with L.A.Times Publisher Eddy Hartenstein in 2008. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times