Utah newspaper heads say newspapers will find a way to survive

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 25 2011 4:40 p.m. MDT

Deseret News President and CEO Clark Gilbert speaks during a panel discussion called "How are Journalism Leaders on the Ground Adapting to the Changing Media" at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Do newspapers have a future? The heads of Utah's two largest newspapers say yes, but they're going to have to do a lot of work in finding their area of expertise and then building a reputation as a trusted authority in that area.

Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News Publishing Company and Deseret Digital Media, and Nancy Conway, editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, led a panel discussion at the Hinckley Institute of Politics on Tuesday. Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, also rounded out the panel.

The discussion, "How are Journalism Leaders on the Ground Adapting to the Changing Media?" kicked of a weeklong forum exploring issues in journalism, sponsored by the Hinckley Institute.

In recent years, many newspapers have closed their doors across the nation. Experts say one of the main reasons is that papers have not been able to successfully adapt to the fast shift to information on the Internet.

Jurkowitz said newspaper organizations have been slow to adapt to a new business model that can compete for the "eyeballs in cyberspace." The irony is, many newspapers compete with non-news and news aggregate websites that often repost their own news content.

Competition online is fierce and specialization is the future for newspaper organizations, Gilbert said. Competition, he said, "is just a click away." Smart news organizations have asked the question, "What can we be great at?"

For the Deseret News, Gilbert said the paper has focused on five key principles: faith, family, values, enlightening, relevant and rigorous. These principles help define the paper's brand.

Conway applauded the Deseret News for finding an area in which it can thrive, adding the potential to expand to a global audience is impressive. She added the Tribune's strength will remain reporting local news.

Gilbert said the Deseret News' emphasis on faith and family still "resonates" with most Utah readers.

Studies have shown that "legacy" news organizations still produce the most original news, Jurkowitz said, but aggregators and bloggers repost content. "The ants are stealing our picnic stuff," he said. As an example, the Huffington Post was sold for more than $300 million, making its business by posting other news organizations' content, but the Boston Globe, a creator of original news, was valued at around $100 million.

The panel agreed that among news consumers, legacy news organizations have done a poor job branding themselves as reliable and trustworthy news sources.

"We are talking about saving journalism," Conway said.

Gilbert said it's not an audience problem, but a revenue one. Newspapers have had a tough time adopting a business model where they can survive financially online.

According to the Newspaper Association of America, 14 percent of newspaper revenues come from digital products. Gilbert said the estimate is that digital revenues will make up 50 percent by 2015, but the reality is it needs to be by 2012.

One trend is putting "pay walls" to force readers to subscribe to digital news. Recently the New York Times put its premium content behind a pay wall. Gilbert and Conway both said they do no foresee putting up a pay wall to their websites.

Jurkowitz said newspapers are learning how to compete. All panel members agreed that the future survival of newspapers will be in providing reliable news, and doing it well.

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com

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