NEW YORK – Top news executives from three major financial-news organizations expressed pessimism about the future of metro newspapers in particular and print publications in general.
Stephen J. Adler of Reuters, Norman Pearlstine of Bloomberg and Robert Thomson of Dow Jones spoke today in a rare public appearance together at the Fall Conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW).
Thomson, who is the editor-in-chief of Dow Jones, said we may still have to cope with the prospect of mass layoffs across the country in the newspaper business.
Additional cuts would come on top of the loss of 13,500 jobs in newspaper newsrooms in three years, according to Pew’s 2010 report on The State of the News Media. That means that newspaper newsrooms have already shrunk by 25 percent. In contrast, Reuters, Bloomberg and Dow Jones continue to hire.
Thomson said that he visited 28 states a decade ago on a car trip and saw a lot of great journalism, but he also saw a lot of local business journalism turning into sloppy personal finance. He said it reflected a lack of understanding of the role of business in the local community.
“We need local proprietors willing to invest in local markets,” he said, asking why the Houston Chronicle had not become the leading provider of energy news or the Los Angeles Times the top purveyor of celebrity news.
“Those opportunities exist in some places still,” he said, and “it’s up to enterprising journalists” to capitalize on them.
Adler, who is editor-in-chief of Reuters News, said, “To the extent that print is viable as a business model, there will be a small number of winners,” noting that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have opportunities.
Thomson, who is also the managing editor of The Wall Street Journal, said the Journal has been able to hold onto its print subscribers because its emotional connection with them is stronger than four years ago — “even though the most functional way to deliver business news may be on a BlackBerry.”
Pearlstine, who advised a private-equity firm before joining Bloomberg L.P. as its chief content officer in 2008, said he looked at the Tribune Co. and could not craft any scenario in which its 11 newspapers could be more valuable if purchased. They “couldn’t cut themselves to profitability,” as Sam Zell, the eventual buyer in 2007, clearly demonstrated, he said.
Pearlstine said perhaps a different kind of local media will evolve, providing a better model “than trying to replicate a failing newspaper.”
As for job opportunities for business journalists, he said, “I’d be far more inclined to look for opportunities outside the United States.”
Both Adler and Thomson said niche journalism provides opportunities for business journalists, with Adler saying that it “is not a lesser form of journalism.”
The conference continues at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism on Oct. 14, with Harvard economist Kenneth Rogoff.