Poynter asks: Are journalists giving up on newspapers?

The Poynter Institute in the US hosted an online discussion asking if journalists are giving up on newspapers after high-profile departures there including Jennifer 8. Lee, who accepted a buy out at the New York Times, and Anthony Moor, who left newspapers to become a local editor for Yahoo. Moor told the US newspaper trade magazine Editor & Publisher – which just announced it is ceasing publication after 125 years:

Part of this is recognition that newspapers have limited resources, they are saddled with legitimate legacy businesses that they have to focus on first. I am a digital guy and the digital world is evolving rapidly. I don’t want to have to wait for the traditional news industry to catch up.

This frustration has been there for a while with digital journalists, but many chose to stay with newspapers or sites tied to other legacy media because of resources, industry reputation and better job security. However, with the newspaper industry in turmoil, now the benefits of staying are less obvious.

Jim Brady, who was the executive editor of WashingtonPost.com but is now heading up a local project in Washington DC for Allbritton Communications, said on Twitter:

A few years ago, the risk of leaping from a newspaper to a digital startup was huge. Now, the risk of staying at a newspaper is also huge.

Aside from risk, Jim echoed Moor’s comments in an interview with paidContent:

Being on the digital side is where my heart is. Secondly, I think doing something that was not associated with a legacy product was important.

In speaking with other long-time digital journalists, I hear this comment frequently. Many are yearning to see what is possible in terms of digital journalism without having to think of a legacy product – radio, TV or print. There is also the sense from some digital journalists that when print and digital newsrooms merged that it was the digital journalists and editors who lost out. In a special report on the integration of print and online newsrooms for Editor & Publisher, Joe Strupp writes:

Yet the convergence is happening. And as newsrooms combine online and print operations into single entities, power struggles are brewing among many in charge. More and more as these unifications occur, it’s the online side that’s losing authority.

It’s naive to think that these power struggles won’t happen, but they are a distraction that the industry can ill afford during this recession. In the Editor & Publisher report, Kinsey Wilson, former executive editor of USA Today and editor of its Web site from 2000-2005, said that during the convergence at USA Today and the New York Times:

We both had a period of a year or two when our capacity to innovate on the Web stopped, or was even set back a bit

Digital models are emerging that are successful. Most are focused and lean such as paidContent (although it has cut back during the recession, I’d consider its acquisition by The Guardian, my employer, as a mark of success) and expanding US political site Talking Points Memo. There are opportunities in the US for journalists who want to focus on the internet as their platform.

Back to the Poynter discussion, Kelly McBride of Poynter said during the live discussion:

I talk to a lot of journalists around the country. I don’t think they are giving up journalism at all. I do think some of them have been let down by newspapers. But a lot are holding out. They are committed to staying in newspapers as long as they can, because they are doing good work.

It’s well worth reading through the discussion. I am sure that many journalists have some of the same questions.

What was the verdict? Poynter discussion - Are journalists giving up on newspapers?