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Why Newspapers Matter (MIT Communications Forum)

10/05/2006 5:00 PM Bartos
Jerome Armstrong, Founder,; Pablo Boczkowski, Professor of Communications Studies at Northwestern University ; Dante Chinni, Senior Research Associate, Project for Excellence in Journalism; David Thorburn, MIT Professor of Literature
MacVicar Faculty Fellow

Description: In this third and final panel, moderator David Thorburn makes an impassioned bid to refocus attention on the unique role newspapers play in society, and to cast a more skeptical eye on the merits of cyberjournalism. Newspapers organize the world on a daily basis, -create a universe that is in some sense more fundamentally unified and coherent than the atomistic universe" of the Web, and serve as -independent political observers that can stand up against and defy the demands of government." To Thorburn, the loss of this institution would deal a serious blow to society. Can emerging digital forms of news-gathering and communications hope to offer -the kind of political and moral independence" of traditional newspapers? Jerome Armstrong takes issue with Thorburn. As an early grassroots internet organizer, he -saw a lack of progressive voices in the mainstream media outlets." Newspapers did not cover the world he was interested in, so he -turned to the blogosphere." This is a new mechanism for the mass media: individuals pass on information or a message via the internet to much larger groups. Speaking directly to the continued relevancy of newspapers, Armstrong notes that blogs offer readers a chance to connect with like-minded folks, and wonders whether the communities available online are -offering something newspapers haven't offered." Pablo Boczkowski has hard data from his studies of Argentine print and digital journalism to suggest that -newspapers matter less because they have increasingly turned hard news into a commodity. They are losing their power to set the agenda." Since 2001, and the advent of the internet as a news source, Boczkowski has detailed the increased homogeneity of stories in Argentina's top newspapers. As editors monitor the competition online, especially breaking news, the same stories about politics, economics and foreign affairs show up in the pages of the following day's newspapers. And as websites that feed a steady stream of entertainment, disaster and sports news demonstrate their popularity by click traffic, newspapers increasingly follow their lead. There's now a -dense web of shared content" among online and print media, which may ultimately -decrease newspapers' ability to contribute to a diverse public sphere." The best-case scenario for newspaper readership is grim indeed, says Dante Chinni, a slow and steady 1% decline year after year. And with more people reading news online, the income from classified ads must grow enormously-- an unlikely prospect. But while Chinni can't identify a viable economic model to ensure the existence of newspapers, he makes a strong case for newspapers' continued survival: at the local and national level, -they're the place with the most bodies, the most reporters on the street. They've got expertise and know what they're talking about." Blogs can't break large stories, but feed off news that's already out there. Journalists have unique access, and -in spite of bias grumblings, lovable mainstream journalists try to get the story straight." And because the news environment has become so complicated, we need -somebody to make sense of it," more than ever.

About the Speaker(s): Dante Chinni helps research, write and edit PEJ's Reports, articles and essays. As a freelance journalist, he writes a regular media column for the Christian Science Monitor and contributes to publications ranging from the Washington Post Magazine to Columbia Journalism Review. From 1994 - 1997 he was a reporter/researcher for the National Affairs desk at Newsweek Magazine. Jerome Armstrong, a pioneer of the political blogosphere, founded one of the first political blogs,, in 2001. An architect of the netroots strategy that used blogs and meetups for Howard Dean's campaign, Armstrong works as an internet strategist for advocacy organizations and political campaigns with his company, Pablo J. Boczkowski is also External Faculty Affiliate at Columbia University's Center on Organizational Innovation and Visiting Faculty at Universidad Torcuato Di Tella's Business School in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Before coming to Northwestern, he was Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Assistant Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Boczkowski's research examines the transformation of print culture in the digital age. Heis the author of numerous articles in such publications as Journal of Communication, New Media & Society,and The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. His work has received awards from the International Communication Association, and the American Sociological Association, among others.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Communications Forum

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