The Future of Washington Journalism is Something to Blog About

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 19, 2008) – Discussing the shift from traditional journalism to managing media in a new digital era, the Annenberg Schools for Communication at Penn and the University of Southern California (USC) assembled a panel of five longtime, seasoned journalists to talk shop.

Panelists included Jim Brady, executive editor of WashingtonPost.com; Brooks Jackson, director of Annenberg Political Fact Check; Doyle McManus, Washington bureau chief of The Los Angeles Times; Jon Sawyer, director of Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting; and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief of The Chicago Sun-Times. David Westphal, executive in residence at USC Annenberg and McClatchy Washington editor, moderated.

"Journalism is indeed going through a transition of turmoil, and the challenges that the media faces are challenges that democracy faces," said Ernest J. Wilson, III, Ph.D., Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. Dean Wilson offered commentary at the opening and close of the two-hour session.

Straying from the tumultuous topic of the business-side of journalism (i.e. recent staggering layoffs, cutbacks, and buyouts), an issue that ultimately reinforces digital discourse; Mr. McManus explained how the LA Times is, in fact, getting with the times. “We’re in the process of revamping our website, focusing on the news that drives the most traffic. And right now, that’s politics.” To be successful and sustain the critical mass of viewers, Mr. McManus advises news venues to get global. “We found that by posting foreign content, the wealth of traffic we were receiving was not from Southern California,” said Mr. McManus, “but from New York, Topeka, and so on.”

Ms. Sweet sees the shift to online media as inevitable as well. Embracing this age where instantaneous access to web-based news is preferred over leafing through a paper, Ms. Sweet said she is penetrating the ‘blogosphere’ via a blog of her own for the Sun-Times. “I’ve been blogging for a couple of years now. I have learned that if you want to move traffic with a blog, you have to be first. You don’t always have to complete the blog entry since it’s constantly moving, and you can always complete it later.”

She says another major traffic driver is the source documents embedded within the blog or webpage. “It’s important to have links to videos in your blogs…transcripts of interviews…whatever it takes to capture your audience.” According to Ms. Sweet, today’s news people have to work all of the multi-media platforms available to them – blogs, podcasts, streaming video, and others. “Developing a blog made me more valuable to the paper.”

Mr. Brady, who oversees the full online presence of The Washington Post, says ‘click-through manageability’ is key in today’s journalism business. “To keep viewers loyal and coming back, you need to engage them with multimedia and links to databases that are easy to navigate,” said Mr. Brady. “It’s a myth that people only like short videos. If the story is compelling, the viewers will get to the end.” Debunking a popular myth, Mr. Brady said not all web commentary is unintelligent; some comments have valuable information, thus becoming a great source for reporters and viewers alike.

“I’m less pessimistic about the future of journalism,” admitted Mr. Jackson. The director of FactCheck – an award-winning public policy and media resource that Jackson refers to as a small online magazine – said he’s much more optimistic about the craft of journalism, rather than the business side. “There’s a hunger for reporting politics,” said Mr. Jackson. Though, adding caution, he noted that, “journalists should keep in mind that politics is seasonal and when the season is gone, so will their audience.”

Still the online world advances and so must news industries in the processing of information dissemination. “The natural resource that we should be trying to preserve is journalism itself, not the paper,” said Mr. Brady, encapsulating the crux of the Annenberg Washington panel discussion.