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John Hughes

Despite media yammer, there’s hope for real news

Though we live in a world of anonymous blogs, tweets, and declining newsroom budgets, tried-and-true sources of international reporting remain available.

By John Hughes / April 15, 2011

The news group ASNE just held its annual convention, and its very name now reflects the changing news business. It used to be the American Society of Newspaper Editors. But so many papers have fallen victim to the Web and other electronic means of delivery that its name has been changed to the American Society of News Editors.

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The Society still deals with journalistic ethics and freedom of information challenges, but now there are seminars for editors on how to make money from “electronic formats,” and speakers coaching editors on how to move into the “digital era.”

The digital era is already responsible for the closure or shrinking of many newspapers, with thousands of veteran journalists laid off. The newspaper business has been so bad in recent years that ASNE canceled its 2009 convention.

We’re all learning that social media can start a climactic revolution in the Arab world. But can social media, which often means 140 characters on a shrunken screen, really help us understand the nature of the revolt? Whatever happened to depth and context?

Fortunately, as TV anchor Peter Jennings used to argue, the breadth of American media is such that seriously questing readers can be soundly informed. They have a choice from the National Enquirer at one extreme to the “quality” newspapers, like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Christian Science Monitor, at the other. Mr. Jennings’s point about breadth holds, but since he passed, a combination of factors – plunging ad revenue, erosion of classified ad income, rising paper costs, and proliferation of free content online – has brought sharp pressure even on flagship outlets, forcing them to seek revenue in new electronic formats.

Foreign news coverage is expensive. In hard budgetary times, it is the first to take a hit. Some newspapers, like The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, have folded all of their foreign bureaus in the past decade.


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