The dramatic and rapid changes occurring in the newspaper industry have led several SPJ chapters to call for public discussion about the future of the profession and the public service it provides.
In late January, SPJ national headquarters, with the Northern California Chapter, released a statement calling for “an urgent national conversation about how to preserve public-service journalism in light of the likely sale of the Knight Ridder newspaper company.” The discussion is happening all over the country.
The Newspaper Guild is forging ahead with plans to orchestrate a “worker friendly” buyout of the company, which would include some investment from members’ retirement funds.
Frustration has also been felt outside the journalism community. Merrett Stierheim, a former Miami-Dade County manager, wrote to Bruce Sherman, the investment manager who sparked the move to sell Knight Ridder: “Capitalism, without meaningful concern for the public and our democracy — now corrupted from within with sickening regularity or carried to excess with no value systems other than the pursuit of the almighty dollar — has within itself the seeds for its own destruction. Mr. Sherman, this is a serious, growing threat to our free and democratic society and to free enterprise in the long run.”
The letter was published in the St. Petersburg Times.
Several chapters have also organized public forums to discuss the fate of newspaper journalism:
* The South Florida Pro Chapter organized a forum on media ownership for Feb. 10 at the University of Miami. In less than two months the chapter put together a panel that includes Douglas Arthur, a newspaper analyst at Morgan Stanley; Bob Ingle, former head of Knight Ridder New Media and former executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News; and Robert G. Picard, founder of the journal Media Economics and professor of media management at the Jonkoping International Business School in Sweden, to explore how a new model of media ownership could protect newsrooms. For more information, visit www.spjsofla.net.
* The Northern California Chapter sponsored an event planned for March 20 in Lafayette, Calif., co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Club of California, which runs public programs across the San Francisco Bay area. Details were not available at press time.
* Northern California also was co-sponsoring a panel discussion in San Jose on March 30. “Who Needs Ink? The Future of Newspapers,” was to feature Peter P. Appert, a publishing and information services analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co.; Jerry Ceppos, a retired vice president for news at Knight Ridder; Dan Gillmor, author of “We the Media” and founder of the Center for Citizen Media; and Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com. For both events, check www.spj.org/norcal.
* In addition, Paul Davis, senior vice president for programs at the Foundation for American Communications, a journalism-education nonprofit group based in Pasadena, Calif., planned to organize two events about “the business of the news business” in coordination with local SPJ chapters. One was planned for Minneapolis on March 31, and the other for Hollywood on April 1. The faculty for the events was pending. More information is available at www.facsnet.org.
John Hopkins, vice president for membership at the South Florida Pro Chapter, said it was important for chapters to organize such events because the fate of newspapers will directly affect the professional prospects for most of the society’s members.
“The news, in all its depth and complexity, is as essential to a self-governing people as the ballot box,” Hopkins said. “Newsrooms could easily be crippled by more of the cost-cutting that investors have been demanding. If that happens, you can expect to see shallower, less relevant reporting of the important parts of life, and more quick glossovers of accidents and celebrity doings.”