A World Without Newspapers?

Experts and professionals from a collage of disciplines are gathering this week at the University of Colorado at Boulder for the Conference on World Affairs. The event is billed as “a conference on Everything Conceivable-encompassing music, literature, environment, science, journalism, visual arts, diplomacy, technology, spirituality, the film industry, politics, business, medicine, human rights and so on.”

One discussion held Wednesday afternoon titled, “Imagine a World Without Newspapers,” featured Chicago Tribune editorial page editor Bruce Dodd, Newseum editor Margaret Engel and Financial Times columnist Jurek Martin. While all three agreed the newspaper industry is changing, they had conflicting notions of where it is headed and about the implications of new media.

continued…Dodd was the reluctant pragmatist. He described the Trib‘s publication Red Eye, which is geared toward younger readers and provides culture commentary and bite-sized news.

“It’s been a very successful product that somewhat mimics the Internet,” Dodd said.

Yet, he said he was troubled that market-driven research was determining too much content.

“We’re at risk of losing our sense of civil responsibility,” he said.

Martin, a Brit with a dry sense of humor, said he believes newspapers will always exist because he simply could imagine a world without them. He described his longtime ritual of reading several newspapers in bed with his wife each morning and lamented about the excuse young people give of not having enough time to read.

“They were multi-tasking from the minute opened their eyes,” he said. “What sort of life is that?”

Martin received cheers from the audience as he said, “The American media has become too much a part of the establishment.”

A major problem with news outlets is pack journalism, he said. It is a waste to have dozens of reporters covering the same story. Tongue in cheek, Martin said that prior to the session he and Dodd had been outside covering a rag-tag rally in support of Ward Churchill.

“Fifteen sophomores and a bullhorn that didn’t work,” he said, does not warrant extensive coverage. “A gross mis-allocation of resources,” he joked.

Engle had a much more positive outlook for the future of news and newspapers. She said newspapers have been “stodgy” for decades, and she’s glad they are listening more to what readers say they want.

“There are many things newspapers can do to save themselves,” she said.

In the audience were journalism students, professionals and a number of vocal Boulderites who expressed their displeasure at the redesign of the Daily Camera, which had revealed its makeover that morning and will now be called simply, the Camera.

The Conference on World Affairs continues today and tomorrow with discussions on everything from Borat to poetry to the Burning Man festival. It is free to the public.

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Kerri Rebresh

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