Similar to many news organizations, The Mirror underwent having to switch from just the print version to developing and maintaining an online version. Former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie addressed this change on a global scale with Monday night’s panel on The Changing Face of News: From Print to Online to the Future.
Downie worked at The Washington Post News Room for 44 years, where he was an investigative reporter, deputy metro editor, editor on the local and national news staff, a London correspondent, managing editor, executive editor for 17 years and is currently Vice President at large. He also is the father of Associate Professor of Politics and Director of Environment Studies, Dr. David Downie.
At the beginning of the event, the panel was introduced by the moderator Dr. James Simon, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The panel consisted of Leonard Downie, Connecticut Public Radio and Connecticut Mirror reporter Neena Satija, Fairfield Mirror Editor-in-Chief Martin O’Sullivan, and communication professor Michael Serazio.
With some news organizations in decline, Downie talked about where they have been in the past, and where it looks like they are heading now.
Downie said that back in the 20th century, people depended on three major broadcast networks and newspapers. Once cable television came along, this all changed.
“The audiences and the revenues for these news organizations began to shrink,” said Downie. “Not all of the audiences began to shrink. The audience for The Washington Post is now bigger than it ever was before, thanks to our website and our mobile media and so on.”
According to Downie, there are still 1,300 daily newspapers, and only a handful have folded so far. But he also said that doesn’t mean they won’t be in the near future. However, Downie talked about a recent type of news organization becoming popular in 2007 and 2008, which are non-profit organizations.
“They’re [non-profit organizations] being started by journalists who no longer had jobs …who no longer thought they could do the type of journalism that they wanted to do,” said Downie. “Most of them focused on public affairs reporting and investigative reporting that they feel is no longer being done adequately by the commercial media.”
Since these non-profit organizations are very new and dependent on foundation grants, Downie said that he is unsure of how many of these are going to survive.
Downie focused primarily on accountability journalism, an aspect of reporting where journalists take responsibility for delivering the news to those who struggle to have influence and power. Downie said that as the new media world takes shape, information is taken from all over the world.
“There is a unique ability to do accountability journalism, which I think requires an organized news organization, with clear values and credibility with work that it does to hold accountable everybody in society who has influence and power over everybody else,” said Downie. “It takes professional journalists working according to certain standards, in my view, to do that job effectively.
After Downie spoke, Satija spoke to the audience about the Connecticut Mirror, followed by O’Sullivan, who talked about some of the problems that the school newspaper has faced. He said that many people see The Mirror as a casual read in between classes, but their online website has helped the paper gain a 24/7 reputation over a weekly paper.
Finally, Serazio discussed his research he has been conducting on how changes in the media environment have changed how politics is conducted, as well as how strategies unfold. He said to the audience he was showing “what you are up against in terms of what journalists face nowadays.”
The panel ended with a question and answer session, with questions such as, “How have people [readers] responded with the change from print to online?” The panel thought surprisingly well, ending the event on a positive note.
“He was artful,” said Simon about Downie after the event ended. Simon said that he doesn’t feel that students realize that Mirror stories are picked up every week, and that it would really benefit them to write for the paper, HAM channel, or any other news media on campus.
“I’m still a newspaper reader, so it’s a learning process,” said Director of Academic Affairs Elizabeth Hastings. She said that she liked what Downie said about going to a specific website and how easy it is to pick and choose which articles you want to read.