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Arguments Why Journalism School Professors Should Not Be Quoted Regarding The Business Of Newspapers

Posted by: Jon Fine on January 13, 2009

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s own (excellent) reporting on the news that its parent company Hearst Newspapers is alloting but 60 days to sell it:

Tim Pilgrim, a journalism professor at Western Washington University, suggested that the P-I staff buy the paper and run it at a lesser profit than Hearst requires — perhaps assisted by a wealthy patron such as Bill Gates or Paul Allen.

“If this kind of profit-driven killing of legitimate news sources keeps happening, the online ‘news’ outlets that repackage P-I and other newspaper content will be out of news and only have opinion (blogging, etc.) to post,” Pilgrim wrote in an e-mail.

Um … Tim?

I'm a little confused as to what you mean by "lesser profit than Hearst requires" seeing that the P-I has been in the red since 2000. (And the stronger and larger paper in Seattle, the Seattle Times, has been having a hard time making any profits in the past several years.)

It's also a little weird to place that argument on Hearst, of all companies. Whatever its faults may be, Hearst has kept its San Francisco Chronicle alive and in print. The Chronicle, according statements made in a court of law , lost around $330 million between 2000 and September 2006. In 2001, it was losing $1 million each week. And, need we remind you, the revenue picture for big-city newspapers has gotten much grimmer since 2006.

There are things that make journalists' and ex-journalists' knees jerk--I speak here as both a journalist and the owner of two knees connected--and the notion of some mean-minded bean-counter emasculating a news operation in the name of ever-higher profit is one of them.

But, for newspapers, that's now an old and wholly outmoded argument, one best consigned to the 80's and '90's, back when big newspapers turned a profit.

These days, many of them don't. Most of the rest of the world understands that the game for big newspapers is "survival," not "cruelly squeezing more profits from the newsroom to satisfy some owners' greed," but apparently Tim Pilgrim isn't there yet.

Reader Comments

Ron Mwangaguhunga

January 13, 2009 7:15 PM

Ah, from the blissful ethers of academe. Maybe a part of every J-school curriculum should be nowadays some practical business courses in the financing of old media and new media(and, for that matter, global economics).


January 13, 2009 7:55 PM

It just gets worse and worse daily with, I ask again, what hope?
oh...and as someone who is a Visiting Professor at a University J-school, while I do hear attitudes like this, I am pretty confident most Journalism professors understand the situation very well
otherwise, a major topic of conversation at J schools all over this nation wouldn't be along the following lines:
how do we get parents to fork over tens of thousands of dollars a year so their kids can get a degree in a field where jobs are disappearing and salaries are shrinking.


January 14, 2009 12:48 AM

It's over. It's all gone.

Like poetry, the drive-in, bowling, freestanding malls, betamax, VHS and analog TV, cassette tapes, brick and mortar record and book stores, the tv variety show, printed fanzines, newspaper classifieds, the yellow pages, printed encyclopedias, PDAs that don't read email and just about anything you once kept in the hall closet for reference but haven't used since last Christmas when you got the GPS for your car.

I went to school for radio and was shocked if not stunned and angry when my university canceled its broadcasting program. Within 2 years the mentors who had helped us were out of work after Clear Channel consolidation. Radio consolidated far below the point where it could still be effective, yet more was syndicated and more was eliminated.

I read a newspaper the other and thought it was great- I read articles about things that didn't interest me and I felt generally educated on national and international issues. but take one into my house where I have to properly recycle it and keep the kids from unfolding it and rolling it up into lightsabers? No thanks. Not worth the hassle.


January 14, 2009 10:20 PM

@Ron: I actually teach one of several classes of Media Economics and Marketing to Master's degree candidates in journalism. While it is new to the journalism curriculum, it is intended to provide students with a broader viewpoint of the media industry and the business of media/the economic model operates.

And @Mediadavid: note Ron suggests the courses for students, not for the professors. Most indeed do 'get it.' So with that, we convince parents that journalism continues to be a noble field of pursuit in that there will always be a role and need for journalists -- it's the business models supporting and delivery-devices of their efforts that are undergoing dynamic upheaval...yet will eventually sort out, providing new venues for quality journalism.
That's our hope and what we communicate.

Tim Penning, APR

January 15, 2009 11:07 AM

One thing academics don't do is take a single anecdote and generalize it to an entire population. So let's not take the quote of one professor and assume he represents the views and perspectives of all professors.

On a related note, this of course is one of the problems newspapers have--seeking one or a few sources to be the proclaimed 'experts' on a topic. In social media, everyone has the ability to be quoted, and readers can read a plethora of comments.

From a former journalist and now a professor, who is somewhat chilled from commenting again :)


January 16, 2009 10:54 AM

I'm not sure whether i'm agreeing or disagreeing with folks here, particularly my fellow journalism profs, but i'll try to make my points clear and see if I'm on track with the rest of you.
1.the vast majority of journalism profs completely understand the significant issues and slide facing the business.
2. there is a huge internal issue at J schools over what should be taught in this upside world.
(fyi, I am a Medill grad and know very well the internal struggle going on at that school over what and how to teach students and whether the traditional model that allows Medill graduates to make a decent living given the stratospheric cost of a degree there is at all realistic anymore)

3. I too hope someone comes up with such a model or our society will be deeply challenged and ill-informed. But wishing doesn't save a single job nor is there a single trend i can spot that offers me significant hope at this point, despite all of the efforts to create a new web based journalism.

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