No More 'Mainstream Media'? Newspapers are dying, digital journalism is flourishing and the blogoshpere is becoming increasingly viable. Given the pace and scope of change (not to mention, the sweeping evolution of social media tools), the future of mainstream media remains largely a mystery. Veteran journalist and media critic Callie Crossley, media and diversity blogger Richard Prince, along with Jose Antonio Vargas, technology and innovations editor for the online newspaper The Huffington Post, discuss the changing media landscape. They discuss whether modern-day innovations strengthen or weaken the role of media and the value journalism.

No More 'Mainstream Media'?

No More 'Mainstream Media'?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/113495833/113495822" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Newspapers are dying, digital journalism is flourishing and the blogoshpere is becoming increasingly viable. Given the pace and scope of change (not to mention, the sweeping evolution of social media tools), the future of mainstream media remains largely a mystery. Veteran journalist and media critic Callie Crossley, media and diversity blogger Richard Prince, along with Jose Antonio Vargas, technology and innovations editor for the online newspaper The Huffington Post, discuss the changing media landscape. They discuss whether modern-day innovations strengthen or weaken the role of media and the value journalism.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

As newspapers across the country go out of business, some say mainstream media itself is on life support. Others argue it's just reincarnating into new forms. But one thing: The news as we know it is rapidly changing. But just what shape is it taking? Joining us now to talk about all this are Callie Crossley - she's a veteran journalist, a media critic. She also happens to be our resident wine expert. Also with us is Richard Prince, author of Journal-isms. That's an online publication about diversity issues in the media and Jose Antonio Vargas, Technology and Innovations editor for The Huffington Post. Welcome to you all. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. RICHARD PRINCE (Author, Journal-isms): Great to be back.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Journalist, Media Critic): Thanks for having me.

Mr. JOSE ANTONIO VARGAS (Technology and Innovations Editor, The Huffington Post): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Jose, I'm going to start with you, because this is going to sound like inside baseball, but it is indicative of a larger issue. Back in July of 2009, you were one of the young journalistic stars to leave The Washington Post.

Mr. VARGAS: No, I don't know about that.

MARTIN: You headed for the Huffington Post. Well, for the purpose of our conversation, we'll name you one - we'll knight you as one of the stars.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: And one of your recent articles entitled - suggested that young voices in the future of news, you suggested that there's something of a generational issue here, that you're saying that, in fact, the part of the issue here is that old media really is old and it doesn't get the needs and interests of the next generation of news consumers. Talk a little bit about that, if you would.

Mr. VARGAS: You know, I'd actually like to say that there is no such thing as new media versus old media. I think there's just reality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VARGAS: And the reality as people get, you know, get the news in various platforms, whatever they want to get it. It's kind of like, you know, I mean, in many ways this is the YouTube, MySpace, iPhone kind of generation we're living in, right? It's about me - me as a consumer. And I think in many ways, the news industry hasn't really - newspapers in particular - haven't particularly kind of adapted to that and what that means, that…

MARTIN: You know, that raises a point, though. I understand that, Jose, but one other thing that I'm curious about is that if you talk about generationally, are you really - it's true, young reporters, people at the beginning of the (unintelligible), are the ones to cover the school board and the county council…

Mr. VARGAS: Exactly.

MARTIN: …and the zoning board and things like that…

Mr. VARGAS: Exactly.

MARTIN: …and things like that…

Mr. VARGAS: Callie did that.

MARTIN: But are they the ones who really care about that? So did I. So did Callie. I bet Richard did, too. But are you the ones - is that the demographic that really cares about that coverage? In fact, one of the things that I often hear from local people who are involved in public life and in community work is that the constant turnover of these young journalists means there's no institutional memory.

So I guess what I'm asking is yes, it's true that there are other ways to cover things like Michael Jackson's death or big national stories or investigative projects, but is there really a model that covers the - kind of the bread-and-butter, day-to-day stuff that goes on in peoples' communities?

Mr. VARGAS: You know, I get this question a lot, and actually I've gotten the question a lot since I left the Washington Post for the Huffington Post. I've heard from a lot of younger, 20-something journalists asking, you know, is it time for me to leave, say, the Miami Herald, or the Philadelphia Enquirer and join a Web publication? And my question has always been: Well, do you feel like you have enough experience?

You know, at the end of the day, you know, I covered school board meetings. I covered city hall. I covered homicides, you know. At the end of the day, it's always about the reporting. It's always about that. But on the flipside of that, there's also this realization that the ecosystem has changed, you know. And frankly, you know, I look at a lot of newspaper Web sites. And my cousin -who's in high school and a sophomore - could probably build a better site, a much more site that, you know, as Dan Lyons pointed out, are much more open to the ideas of the readers, kind of opening up what the news process is.

Articles now aren't just the end of a conversation. It's just the beginning of it. And I think that's something that's largely amiss. That's something that we're not really talking about as a business.

MARTIN: Richard, let's bring you into the conversation. You've written about the incredible rate of job loss in the media since the recession begin. Dan Lyons says that these problems predate the current recession. But even with that, do you think - and I'd like to - and I understand that your publication is largely by and about the journalism business - profession, if you want to call it. But do you think that the public cares? Does the public grasp the scope of the change in this business, and do they care?

Mr. PRINCE: I think that news consumers do care, and I think they do notice. They notice when things they care about are not covered properly or covered at all. We had a good example of this recently with the conservative Web sites and Fox News going after White House advisor Van Jones. And then we had the big protest in Washington, at the Mall, where Fox News took out a full-page ad saying that, in their opinion, it was not covered by the other media. And all these types of issues - ACORN is another one - are issues that the mainstream media was a little slow on, but the conservative media, you know, sort of let the charge on in getting people excited about.

So when those things are not covered by the mainstream media, people do notice. People with agendas notice. They tell their friends, their supporters, and yes, people - I would also like to make the point…

MARTIN: Can I just make the point on those, that demonstration on the Mall? I mean, I think that the other networks very much dispute the fact that they didn't cover it.

Mr. PRINCE: Oh, of course. Yes.

MARTIN: NPR certainly covered it. And they would argue that part of the reason that coverage was not as fulsome as it might have been in the other networks is because they have football games on Saturday, which is when the demonstration took place, and so that their regular coverage was not in place, as it was for Fox. So that's just the argument, the big argument (unintelligible).

Mr. PRINCE: I agree with you. I agree with you, yeah. I was just trying to make the point that people do notice when - well, we're in an echo chamber in a lot of ways with both the left and the right. And when their echo chamber is not validated in the mainstream media, people notice. Let's put it that way.

MARTIN: Callie, what's your take on this? First of all, do you think that the public is aware of the magnitude of change in the media, and do you think that they care?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes, the public is aware of the magnitude of the change, at least those people who have always been regular consumers of news. And I think we have to be clear about that, because that may be a different group that Jose was referring to before, young people feeling disaffected and disenfranchised from mainstream media.

But for folks who have always sought a wide range of sources and information, they notice it, and they complain about it and they talk about it quite loudly.

On our show every week, we hear from those folks, saying, why isn't this discussed? Not, you know, not just why wasn't it covered? We get that it happened here and it happened - and five people were there, but what is the meaning of it? We're not seeing those kinds of pieces in the way that we did in the past, and they understand that it's directly related to a cutback in resources, that a lot of mainstream - I'm going to use that word - media used to have.

MARTIN: Do they really, though? I mean, one of the things that I'm always intrigued by is that we often get this: Why did you cover this and not that? And there are two answers. When time is the one thing they're not making any more of, and I don't have the bodies. And, I mean, I really - you know, in our offices, we just do not have the resources to send these people to these places.

I remember when I first got involved in the business, I mean, you could - if you were a young journalist on vacation and you wanted to go sort of backpacking someplace, you could count on finding a colleague in any major city in the world that you could, you know, bum dinner from. That is no longer the case, or even, you know, in the United States there are cities, who cities that major regional papers don't cover. So do you think people really understand that, or are they just…

Ms. CROSSLEY: Oh, absolutely, and particularly with regard to international news. I mean, if I - as we have heard, those of us on our program, more and more people saying the reason we don't get what's going on when something happens in the rest of the world is that we had no lead-up information. People are - and so they're trying to find other sources, and there are institutions that are filling in those sources. So for people who are really quite diligent about looking for it, they can find it.

Now, to the other people who are - that you were talking about earlier, about whether or not do they even care that they have information, period, I think that's why we're seeing a rise in interest in hyperlocal sites. That's where people are covering the PTA meetings. They are covering the local football games. They are paying attention to what are the issues that have to do with their particular community.

It's not a great business model for most of them, because people are trying to figure out how to pay for it. But that's where that kind of coverage is happening, and in many cities and towns - I just met a woman who runs something called All Over Albany. They've become quite a power force in those communities because all of that information is not being covered. And when you make the connection with young people about stuff that has meaning in their lives, they are interested in the information.

I think part of our problem in legacy media is that we have not always taken the time to make the connection about why this is important in your life and why you need to know it to be an informed citizen.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask each of you, and we're going to have to take a short break in a moment. I'm going to start with Jose. We talked about - we've talked before about kind of the segmentation of the media. Can you really serve - is there such a thing as the department store for information anymore? Can you really serve all these different interests in one media outlet anymore? Jose, I'm going to start with you and ask you that question. Do you think it's possible?

Mr. VARGAS: I mean, for me, that question has been, like, is there such a thing as a front page of a newspaper anymore, right? I mean, as a reporter for 11 years in newspapers, I mean, the front page is the sacred thing that everybody just, you know, you want to be on the front page, right?

I would argue that online, every story is a front page story looking for an audience. So, I mean, we are in a niche kind of environment online. So I think having a generalized kind of Wal-Mart store of a newspaper, I'm not sure if that's going to survive, frankly.

MARTIN: Richard, what do you think?

Mr. PRINCE: Well, I think there's something to that, but I think that we would be the lesser for it if that were to be the case. Somebody's got to tell us what is the more important - what are the most important things happening.

We do live in a fragmented, niche era now, but everything isn't of equal importance. Somebody's got to be, you know, a gatekeeper and tell you, okay, if you've got five minutes, these are the things you need to know.

MARTIN: Callie, what's your take on that briefly? And then we'll come back to you.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I would argue that you need several gatekeepers. What I tell people now is that to be media-literate, you have to be your own newspaper, your own television station, and pull from various sources.

I believe in the power of legacy media that have been doing the job in terms of being credible source, but I don't think you can get anything that you need or everything that you need now from one place anymore. I think you have to - and you have to go out of your way to do it at this point. That may change, but at this point, you've got to think about it and reach out and make sure that you're covering all of the areas, because it's just not happening in one place. It just can't happen. No resources.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break, but when we come back, we're going to continue this conversation about the future of the media with veteran journalist Callie Crossley, Richard Prince - Richard Prince is the editor of Journal-isms, an online publication about diversity in the media, and Jose Antonio Vargas, technology and innovations editor for the Huffington Post. Callie Crossley is a veteran journalist and media critic. Please stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. In a moment, you've heard about the Godfather of Soul, but what about the Godfather of Go-Go? Washington, D.C., legend Chuck Brown is with us. And an Argentine musical legend has passed away. We'll hear about Mercedes Sosa and her role in fighting back against injustice. That's a little later.

But first, we're going to continue our conversation about what's the matter with the media. The old ways are falling away, but what's taking its place? What could the future hold?

We're continuing our conversation with Callie Crossley, veteran journalist and media critic, Richard Prince, author of Journal-isms, an online publication about diversity issues in the media, and Jose Antonio Vargas, technology and innovations editor for the Huffington Post. Thank you all for staying with us.

Richard, you wrote about the recent Pew study indicating that the public's assessment of the accuracy of news stories is now at its lowest level in more than two decades of Pew Research surveys. I wanted to ask you: Have you - do you think that the public's kind of low regard for the media is part of what's behind the current crisis that we're in, apart from or alongside with the economic issues? Are the two related? Or I guess what I'm asking is: What's the chicken, and what's the egg here? Is partly the public's assessment of the media poor because the media's not doing the job as well as it could be because resources are so strained, or is it part of the reason that resources are strained is that the public doesn't like the product much anymore?

Mr. PRINCE: I think the problem is what's the definition of media. Everything has become so polarized and politicized that people are confusing Glenn Beck with - as the media with Katie Couric, and they're not the same.

So when you say, you know, is the media accurate? You're also talking about opinion media, as well as, you know, the establishment, legacy media. So I think that's the problem.

MARTIN: And Jose, I want to mention that you opened a recent article in the Huffington Post by deriding the term the future of news by saying this is, I quote, "an incredibly loaded phrase soaked with history, imprisoned by its own myths and misconceptions, usually the subject of much doom-saying, finger-wagging, look-at-what-the-Internet-and-technology-has-done tone," end-quote. Having said all that: What's the answer? What is the future? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?

Mr. VARGAS: I'm very optimistic. I cannot think of the words(ph). I feel really lucky because I think of a more exciting time to be a journalist and to be experimental and to figure out kind of - I feel as if I'm living in some sort of a lab. You know, like we're trying to figure out what this is, how this -all of this is going to shake out.

And actually, back to Richard's point: What I find really interesting about that is if we talk about the rise of, like, the liberal blogosphere, right, places like Daily Cos and Talking Points Memo, for example, I mean, those are thriving community of news, and they've been growing.

Talking Points Memo has hired several reporters, actually a couple of them coming from print. So I think what we're seeing is just people adapting to the kind of the new realities of the ecosystem.

MARTIN: And speaking of new realities, somebody's phone is on. So I'm going to ask somebody to please turn his or her phone off. I have no idea who the culprit is, but if you would please turn the phone off, that's the buzzing that we're hearing.

Callie, a final word from you: optimistic or pessimistic?

Ms. CROSSLEY: I'm optimistic. I'm only pessimistic about how do we pay for it. And I'm really looking toward like Journalism Online with Steven Brill's proposal that micropayments might be the way. I know that sounds a little crazy, but I think somebody might pay $.05 for an article, and that could add up. So I'm curious to see if that kind of experimentation in terms of how we pay for this news is going to work.

MARTIN: Well, people will pay for a song, to download one song.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Exactly, exactly. Yeah.

MARTIN: They might - all right. Callie Crossley is a veteran journalist, media critic. She also happens to be our resident wine expert, and she joined us on the phone from Boston. Richard Prince is the author of Journal-isms, an online publication about diversity issues in the media. He was kind enough to join us here in Studio 4B in Washington. And Jose Antonio Vargas is the technology and innovations editor of the Huffington Post. He joined us from San Francisco. I thank you all so much.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Thanks.

Mr. VARGAS: Thank you so much.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.