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Will Next Year Be Better For Media?

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Will Next Year Be Better For Media?


Will Next Year Be Better For Media?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This has been a fascinating, if not worrisome year for our profession, journalism. There have been cutbacks just about everywhere. The giant Tribune Company has filed for bankruptcy. Some publications have completely folded, others have stopped the presses and moved to the Internet. To help us sort out where we've been and where we're going, we talked to our media correspondent David Folkenflik, who's in our New York bureau. Welcome, David.


LYDEN: Let's start with newspapers. We've heard a lot about them this year. First of all, is it true to say that newspapers as an industry are dying?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, they're desperately trying to evolve in the hopes of surviving. In Detroit, the newspapers there have scaled back, where they're not delivering all seven days of the week. The Newark Star-Ledger has just slashed its staff by 40 percent in a single day. You mentioned the Tribune Company, you know, under a crushing $13 billion debt, even as they're trying to deal with everything else the industry is facing, with declining circulation and plunging advertising. We have some tape of chairman and CEO Sam Zell earlier in the year, and he's talking at a very visceral level about how much that debt is affecting them.

Mr. SAM ZELL (Chairman and CEO, Tribune Company): Every month I've got to make the payment. Every month, I've got to make the payment. Well, I can't have redundancy and I can't have a bloated Washington bureau for a declining business. It makes no sense.

FOLKENFLIK: And in fact, he cut back that Washington bureau very, very deeply right after the elections. You're seeing news organizations both have to cut way back and figure out ways to attract readers at a time they have distractions from everywhere else.

LYDEN: Of course, one of the biggest media splashes this year did come from good old network TV and I'm thinking of the Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric interviews with vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Here's a clip of the CBS interview where Couric is pressing Governor Palin on the campaign's claims that John McCain had promoted Wall Street regulation.

(Soundbite of interview)

Ms. KATIE COURIC (Host, CBS Evening News): He's been in Congress for 26 years, he's been chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee, and he has almost always sided with less regulation, not more.

Gov. SARAH PALIN (Alaska): He's also known as 'The Maverick' though, taking shots from his own party, and certainly taking shots from the other party, trying to get people to understand what he's been talking about - the need to reform government.

Ms. COURIC: I'm just going to ask you one more time, not to belabor the point: specific examples, in his 26 years, of pushing for more regulation.

Gov. PALIN: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.

LYDEN: So David, that would seem to suggest the relevancy of mainstream media like network TV.

FOLKENFLIK: I think that those interviews with Katie Couric of CBS really revealed Governor Palin, a lot about her. It was very hard to target Couric as being unfair to her, but it revealed a - while very appealing - the Governor's presence and her candidacy, nonetheless, it revealed her to be perhaps not quite ready for prime time. She seemed unprepared, she seemed not conversant with a lot of the issues that faced her or much about her running-mate. Katie Couric, I think, seemed very relevant during this particular campaign.

LYDEN: Finally, David, there's the Internet. Everyone says it's the future of the business, but is it really?

FOLKENFLIK: It's absolutely a vital part of the media landscape. I mean, when you talk about the Internet, it could be anything. It could be, It can also be things like If you think of Mayhill Fowler, a woman who - not a professional journalist, but she went with a tape recorder behind the scenes to a Barack Obama fundraiser, didn't identify herself as a reporter at that time, but remember those quotes from him during the primary, where he talked about not blaming people who are bitter about their circumstances for clinging to their guns and their religious beliefs - that became a huge story. It would not have met, you know, The New York Times' standards for transparency in reporting. It would not have been the way the mainstream media would have gathered information about that fundraiser, but it certainly became a vital story, and it became one that the mainstream media had to chase after.

LYDEN: Is the Internet sustaining mainstream journalism yet? Can it?

FOLKENFLIK: So far, it's really been sort of heartbreaking for mainstream news outlets, newspapers in particular, that as they've seen their print profits plummet, they've been expecting the digital profits to rise. And the problem is, is that it rose - it was a very small portion of their overall profits, but it rose dramatically, and now it's not rising dramatically, now it's generally leveling off. So, the one on the digital side is not likely to replace the other on the paper side. Until they figure out a way to turn that corner, it's going to be very bleak for newspaper executives for a very long time.

LYDEN: NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik walking us through a year of changes in the world of media. Thanks very much, David.


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