When the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News announced in December they were trimming back home delivery to three days a week, it reignited a discussion among SPJ members about the future of the news business.
It was certainly not what most people wanted to hear, and it came after several weeks of layoff announcements at news organizations across the country. Still, some saw it as a positive that the Free Press would sacrifice delivery to preserve the news operation. Others saw it as a last-ditch effort to save a flailing company. We will see how it comes out.
In addition to concerns about the overall state of the news business, many wonder whether SPJ is positioned to assist journalists in this rapidly changing landscape.
Will SPJ continue to be relevant as the business struggles and seeks new ways to deliver news and generate revenue? What can SPJ do to help journalists who find themselves in a whirlwind of changes to their profession and newsrooms?
I’d like to believe SPJ, the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, is ready.
Our newsroom training programs teach all of the things that veteran and young journalists need to take the next step in their careers. We teach audio, video, online writing and ethics and are prepared to add programs as the demand comes along. We do 12 to 15 programs a year and have done six since September.
We offer this training at a heavily discounted rate thanks to grants from Sigma Delta Chi, our supporting foundation. I witnessed the online and Web audio training programs in Fargo, N.D., and they are excellent. The training is done by some of the best journalists in the business, and the curriculum covers skills and issues critical to today’s reporters and editors.
The Digital Media Committee, which I created upon taking office in September, is poised to keep SPJ in front of the latest and greatest trends in the news industry to advise the board and staff on what direction we need to go to prepare journalists for what’s next. The committee is stocked with some of the best minds in digital media. It has been meeting monthly and is prepared to help SPJ lead the way in the latest technological trends.
Our media credibility town hall meetings, planned for later this year as part of the strategic plan, will seek to explain the news media’s role in society. In addition, it will provide opportunities for people to share their concerns about journalism. Maintaining credibility is critical to survival. If people don’t trust us, we are worthless.
As the elected spokesman for the board, I have spoken to numerous news outlets about the situation with the business. While the picture is not rosy, there is reason for hope.
The problem is not audience. It is revenue. People are still hungry for credible news and they seek it, especially in times of emergency and historic moments. Different markets are going to have to seek the solutions they think are best while they try to survive the struggles unique to the business and those created by a reeling national economy.
News organizations are not the only ones laying off employees. Detroit, in a state with an economy that is worse than the national economy, is trying fewer print editions. It’s a risk, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures.
The grants committee, which I created in October at the suggestion of Executive Director Terry Harper, is searching for additional money that will help us provide additional training opportunities. And Digital Media is looking for a $1 million grant that would be for new media training. Stay tuned.
We plan once again to have numerous professional development programs at the national convention in Indianapolis that will address that stress facing the business and focus on tools to help journalists survive it.
We don’t plan to stop there. The SPJ board and the organization’s committees will continue to work on ways SPJ can position itself to prepare journalists for a changing profession.
We should remind ourselves that this is a large and complex issue and that a simple and quick solution probably does not exist. Some things are out of our control.
But it is worthy of our time and effort.