As the Audience for News Shrinks, What's Next? According to a report on the state of news providers, virtually every sector of the media is losing popularity. Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, talks about this year's report and what it means.
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As the Audience for News Shrinks, What's Next?

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As the Audience for News Shrinks, What's Next?

As the Audience for News Shrinks, What's Next?

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Dramatic changes are underway in the news business as virtually every sector of the industry loses popularity. Readership for newspapers and magazines continues to decline. The TV news audience is down: network, local and cable. Radio is flat, and so, too, is the Internet - long regarded as journalism's future.

Diminished popularity generally translates to diminished income, and, it appears, to diminished ambitions. Many news outlets are closing - news bureaus around the country and overseas. The single, solid-growth area is ethnic media. Fundamental questions arise about business models, ownership models and about the outmoded ways we measure who listens or reads to what and for how long, and all of this - we should point out - at a time when there's hardly been a dearth of news.

These conclusions come from the annual report on the State of the News Media from the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Director Tom Rosenstiel joins us in a just a moment.

Later in the program, the fallout from the Scooter Libby trial is on the Opinion Page this week. We'll hear one argument that the vice president's former chief of staff be pardoned, and another that his old boss be impeached.

But first, the State of the News Media, 2007. How has the way you get your news changed over the past two years and why? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail:, and you can join the conversation on our blog. That's at, all one word.

Tom Rosenstiel joins us here in Studio 3A. Again, he's the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Tom, nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. TOM ROSENSTIEL (Director, Project for Excellence in Journalism; Vice Chairman, Committee of Concerned Journalists): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: And I think the phrase an era of diminished ambitions - I think that's a phrase that's going to jump out at some people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, on one hand, it's a logical result of fragmentation. If everybody's audience is getting smaller, and you have fewer people in your newsroom, you've got to do something different. But for years, I think, in the newspaper business and television, we were talking about, well, we're cutting the fat, but we're not going to cut into the bone. Those conversations are over.

We've cut a limb, perhaps. The Boston Globe, earlier this year, announced that it was closing its foreign bureaus. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has announced it's going to stop circulating in 155 counties around the South and concentrate on 44. The growth areas are programs and outlets that are very targeted.

Keith Olbermann, you know, has gone from a kind of general interest show to an anti-Bush program on MSNBC. He does other things, but the core of his appeal is clearly a niche in around a point of view. And in newspapers, the watchword on Wall Street is hyper-localism. Don't worry about covering the rest of the world.

The problem is when you try and do something with less, what are you leaving out? And what happens to the society? We're going to judge - we're asking ourselves to be judged as news organizations, I think, more on what we cover and a little bit less on how we cover the news.

CONAN: Interesting, newspapers showed the most marked decline over time again. And not just the Boston Globe cutting its overseas bureaus, but the New York Times writing down the value of the Boston Globe by 40 percent. The Minneapolis Star Tribune just sold for half of what it sold last year. This is - is the situation that dire?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, what it means is that at the moment, Wall Street doesn't value newspapers very highly. And the question is, is that a right judgment, or is that a temporary judgment? Are newspapers dying, or are they in transition? Is the news business declining, or is it emerging, but in a new medium? And how you answer that question I think really determines what - do you invest, or do you disinvest? Do you see the Internet as something that's going to be your future, but in a much more diminished way, or is this something that you really want to take risks and be bold and do something different?

The funny thing is that if you were an emerging industry that didn't exist before, you'd go out for venture capital. You'd be private at first, and people wouldn't expect a lot of profit because you're emerging, your future's ahead of you. The news business is a very old business, and these are big companies - most of them publicly traded with shareholders dispersed around the country - and the mechanism for that is not bold risk-taking. It's careful management of the money.

But if the old news business is now turning into an emerging business than in the next couple years is going to be smaller, but at 10 years may be bigger and bolder and different, how do you finance that? Do we have the right model for financing that? And that's really the question we're looking at.

CONAN: Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, said in five years' time, we may not even be publishing a paper version of this. But then again, you look at those numbers, startling that the use of the Internet to get news has plateaued.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah, and that's, I think, also a function not necessarily that people are not interested in news, but even in 10 years, we've got new platforms. Your Internet numbers may be down because people are podcasting. RSS, real simple syndication, which comes off your Web site, can actually drive traffic down from your Web site because people - that may not be counted.

So all the metrics for even how you count audience - let alone how you then capture them and convert them into advertising audience - is up for grabs. It may be that the problem facing journalism is not that people aren't interested in the news, but they're fragmenting so quickly across so many new platforms that we don't know how to monetize that audience in the same way that we used to.

CONAN: And there was an interesting conclusion when you looked at some of the television numbers. The A.C. Nielsen company, which provides the rating system, says look, we're shifting away from these paper diaries where people note - promise that they surely did watch "House" this week and maybe "Grey's Anatomy" and going to the People Meter, which is an actual real-time readout of what people watched. And they should be finished with that transition in five years, by which time we are two or three technologies down the road. This is incredibly slow.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah, I mean, they've got a very daunting challenge ahead of them because things are changing so rapidly. And then they've got - the other question is: Can you tell us whether people are skipping the ads? Or are they TiVoing those out? Or are they not fast-forwarding through that? And Nielsen's got to try and help figure that out, as well.

CONAN: And people are watching some programs on demand, which, of course, don't have any commercials in them at all, and - anyway, if you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us,

We're talking with Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism about the annual State of the News Media survey published every year by that organization. And let's talk to Jim. Jim's with us from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

JIM (Caller): Good afternoon, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure, Jim.

JIM: Appreciate your program. I get most of my news anymore - when I watch television, I watch CNN, but I get really fed up with the sensationalism that even CNN is using, such as the amount of time that they spent on, like, Anna Nicole recently. I get most of my news online from places like and from

I try to stay away from the major sites because they're owned by just a couple of conglomerates, large corporations that have what I feel are competing interests. For example, General Electric owns both media and defense contractors, and so it would be in their - a conflict for them if they have news on...

CONAN: No, we get the conflict of interest part. Do you subscribe to a newspaper?

JIM: Right.

CONAN: Do you subscribe to a newspaper?

JIM: Yes I do. I subscribe to our local Fort Wayne newspaper.

CONAN: To get the local news?

JIM: Yes.

CONAN: And do you - obviously you listen to the radio? Do you watch television news as well?

JIM: Yes I do. Usually CNN as well as local news.

CONAN: Traffic and weather is very compelling, isn't it?

JIM: Yes, very much so.

CONAN: Yes it is. Jim, thanks very much for the call. And Tom Rosenstiel, Jim seems to fit the profile of a lot of people, at least according to what we read in your report.

Mr. TOM ROSENSTIEL (Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism): Yeah. Two things about what Jim said I think are typical and interesting as it pertains to the bigger issues that we're talking about. One is, he consumes news from a lot of different places every day. The notion of a primary medium that we rely on, which people used to ask about and Gallup has asked for years in surveys, is almost obsolete. We're getting news throughout the day. Only ten years ago, Neal, the notion was most people consumed news either at the beginning of the day over breakfast or at the end of the day. The notion of continuous news consumption for most people is a creation of the Internet, and only three, four, five years ago people were saying wow, people are consuming news, you know, after lunch.

It's because even in the era of cable news it's not like you had cable TV on in your office all over the place. And putting your feet up and reading the newspaper in the middle of the day at the office wasn't considered so cool. But hunching over your computer and patrolling the Internet is considered, you know, an aggressive, active employee. So that's one thing that is significant. The other is his suspicion of the ownership. We've seen now for 20 years a growing decline in trust in media, and when you boil through that data, people say: I distrust the motives of news organizations. I think they're in it for a buck. I think they've sensationalize, just as Jim said, because it will get them more eyeballs. There's a disconnect. Journalists think: I'm in it for the public interest. And the public says: I don't think so.

CONAN: Here's a e-mail we got from Adam. Could Mr. Rosenstiel please comment on the rise of user-contributed news websites which act like Wikipedia but offer time-sensitive content?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yes. I would say that a year ago we were seeing, you know - when we did our content analysis of the Internet what we saw was that most of what was in the citizen media really was opinion - people offering their own talk about things. And it was - parasitic is probably too strong a word, but it was playing off the traditional news media to a significant degree. Although some were bringing in new subjects, they weren't really bringing in new information. Today, even a year later, we can find Web sites that are actually reporting, that have, like Wikipedia, editorial processes that you can identify and figure out how this information is being vetted.

CONAN: And contribute to.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: And contribute to, and that there is citizen reporters going on. It's, you know, not widespread but it's clearly there in a way that it wasn't a year ago.

CONAN: We're talking with Tom ROSENSTIEL about the state of the news media. After the break, NPR's David Folkenflik will join us on some of the challenges facing reports as prosecutors go after their confidential sources and sometimes they face jail. And we're taking your calls: 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. The latest study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism shows some dramatic changes in the news business, and today we're talking with the director of the project about the state of the news media, how readers, viewers and listeners get their information. Tom Rosenstiel is here in Studio 3A. We want to hear from you about how you use the news. How has the way you get your news changed over the past few years and why. 800-989-8255 if you'd like to join us. E-mail us, And you can also read what other listeners have to say at our blog,

Tom Rosenstiel, just that, the blog - the blogofthenation. Ours is only a week old at this point but others are much more established, and you say there's a, a sort of, sifting out process going on in the blogosphere.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: You know, two years ago, even a year ago - the 2004 campaign was, I think, when people began to see or imagine that blogs were coming of age and became a force in politics. And they were - some bloggers were invited to the political conventions. Well, last year we saw no growth in the audience for blogs - I mean in 2005. In 2006 a sudden surge again in the audience for blogs. And now we see, as in NPR, traditional news organizations that I think two years ago saw blogs at the antithesis of journalism. This is anybody in their pajamas in the middle of their night writing whatever they want. Oh my God - it's the end of the world - is now: wow, this is conversation, it's dynamic, it's interesting, it's got a more informal voice, we can do this in our - within the confines of traditional news organization.

Two years ago at the American Society of Newspaper Editors there was a first panel that was ever held on blogging, and it attracted about 11 people in a very small room. Most of the publishers and editors there were there to hold up a cross and garlic. And today the blogging panel at the convention is in the big room and a lot of people are listening.

CONAN: See if we can get another caller on the line. This is Judy(ph). Judy with us from Canton, Connecticut.

JUDY (Caller): (Unintelligible).

CONAN: Hi Judy. We're having a little trouble with your phone. And we're having more trouble with your phone. I'm afraid we can't hear that Judy. Please try to call us back and we'll expedite your passage through to the air, but we just can't hear the phone. I apologize. Must be in a bad cell. Let's see if we can go instead to - let's try Bernie(ph). Bernie's with us from Tucson, Arizona.

BERNIE (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi there.

BERNIE: I just wanted to put in my two cents. You know, I used to get the newspaper on a daily basis. I downsized it to the Sunday paper. Basically, I'm in and out of the office all day so I didn't get to the newspaper until about lunchtime. Just grabbed it on my way out of home. Took it to the office. And the old way I used to get it - my news - was through the television. And it's seemingly becoming in more and more one-sided, if you will. It seems that negativity sells, and that's too bad. I think they need to really start showing both ends of the sword and continue with that. And I'll take any response off the air.

CONAN: Okay Bernie. Thanks very much. You in fact talked about this very point in part of your report.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah. I mean the biggest shift, really, is that power is seething from the journalists who gives the news to a consumer, and the consumer is fairly passive, to a proactive citizen who is essentially assembling their own news package every day from multiple sources. We've gone from what you might consider the trust me era of journalism, in which the me is the journalist, to the show-me era of journalism, in which the me is the citizen saying - show me why I should believe your particular account.

CONAN: And it's not necessarily a bad thing.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Absolutely not. What it does mean is that there's responsibility on the citizen to figure out: how do I decide what I need to know and, I mean, it's a little bit like eating. You know, if you eat poorly you're going to get - you're not going to live as long and, you know, you're not gong to look as good and you're not going to be swimsuit model - although I must say, Neal, that you're eating obviously well. We now have the...

CONAN: NPR's swimsuit issue is delayed this year.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: And, you know, we now have the responsibility as citizens to figure out - how do I acquire this stuff because the journalist is no longer the gatekeeper doing it for me.

CONAN: And you also though made a point about the one-sidedness of some television programs. You note that Crossfire has now been canceled. This sort of pie-throwing contests - there are fewer of those kind of broadcasts in favor of - and you used Keith Olbermann earlier, as one example, but there are others of course on CNN.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Yeah, we describe this as the end of the argument culture and the rise of the answer culture. In the answer culture, we don't need to stage a debate on which we give each side equal play. I - as the host in the answer culture - I have the answers. You know, the debate is over. Olbermann, O'Reilly, Lou Dobbs - even in his own way, Anderson Cooper on CNN, although he's not taking sides in a partisan way, he is getting involved in the story emotionally. Predator: Dateline on NBC - I think to some extent, in an era in which we think that information is in oversupply and it's confusing, the answer culture - a certainty, a one-sidedness from the news organization is creating the sense of they're putting the information in order for me. They're helping me make sense of it. They're not just giving me undifferentiated information and I can't make any knowledge out of that.

CONAN: Well, one of the changes in the journalism field in 2006 was in fact the likelihood of journalists being called to testify and being forced to testify in criminal cases. Joining us now to talk about that is NPR's media correspondent, David Folkenflik, who's with us today. He's down at the Pointer Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida, where the weather is better even than it is here in Washington today. David, nice to have you on the program again.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Thanks so much, Neal.

CONAN: And of course listeners know all about the Scooter Libby case which came to a verdict last week and its investigation into the CIA leak - or the leak of a CIA agent's identity. Several journalists were called to testify. Memorably, of course, Judith Miller, then of the "New York Times", spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify. And this was not alone. This was not the only case of prisoners being sent to jail.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, of reporters being sent to jail. No, it wasn't. I mean, there have been a couple of cases. A TV reporter up on Rhode Island - there was this young man who has been sort of an activities reporter, something of a sympathist for anarchists who have been protesting the G8 gathering up in San Francisco a while ago, and he'd taken videotape of protestors there and several authorities there subpoenaed him and won, I believe, six times during the appellate process, each time affirming that they indeed did have the authority to require him to turn over his tapes. In their argument, they said that those tapes could help show who had severely injured a police officer and who had damaged a police car. You know, in his case, his lawyer says there's nothing relevant there and in fact they just wanted to gain more information about who was protesting.

CONAN: And he's now been in jail for longer than 200 days - Joshua Wolf, I think is his name.

FOLKENFLIK: That's correct. You know, he's an interesting case in that he's not what the mainstream media would immediately embrace as a standard journalist. He clearly looks at himself as an activist. If you look at his blog, he sees himself as an anarchist and he sees himself also as kind of a chronicler and a journalist in that sense, but he doesn't have a particularly thick portfolio in that regard. But, you know, this is a case that has implications for the press. The Society for - SPJ is one of the major journalism organizations - has helped to fund his defense. They clearly see implications for people throughout the media.

And there are others as well. There's - you know, I was interested hearing Tom a bit earlier in the program talk about these multiple ways in which the authority of the journalist has been eroded in society. You can see it from below in terms of what he calls from the trust me to the show me, where you have to kind of cede certain kinds of power to the consumer, the readers, the listeners, what have you. In a sense, you're getting pressure from above as well. The main lesson of the Scooter Libby case - kind of a lesson even in the BALCO Steroids case in which two reporters refused to hand over their sources but face jail only to see that threat lifted when their source was identified through other means.

Is that pretty much what the government wants - what federal prosecutors want - and it's different on the state level. Federal prosecutors will get - and the media thought of themselves of having sort of a privileged place in the society are now being judged more or less on the federal level as though they're any other citizen, and that is - at once there's a certain small D democratic notion about we're all the same in front of the law, and at the same time the media says, you know, in order to fulfill our constitutional function we need to be able to gather information. Sometimes we need to be able to protect those sources, and the public will be ill-served if we cannot do so.

CONAN: There's also a strange case involving an active prior restraint. Jackson County judge in Kansas barred the "Kansas City Star" from publishing an article. The case was eventually overturned by state courts, but is this part of the trend?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, let's put it this way, the Kansas City Star, as you say, the major daily in that city as well as the Kansas City Pitch, an alternative weekly there, had obtained confidential memo between the local utilities board and its lawyers, which were looking at the question of the degree to which they really had to renovate power plants for environmental reasons as they upgraded their facilities.

The judge responded to the claim by lawyers, this would be damaging, that this was, you know, protected attorney-client privilege that was being essentially usurped and violated by the notion of publication. They made them take down the Web stories and they made them not published the next day.

It was actually relatively quickly overturned, but I think it's part of - in talking with a couple of media lawyers, it's part of sort of this sense, anyway, perhaps vague but forming, that there is a greater willingness not to cede to the media at any special privilege.

You know, prior restraint was essentially pretty effectively established both in the Pentagon Papers in another case, the notion that the government can't prevent you from doing what you want to do, that is broadcast or to publish. But that, you know, you then can face consequences after the fact if it is libelous, if it violates national security.

You know, President Bush didn't even tried to prevent the New York Times from publishing the NSA warrantless surveillance stories. He certainly did very heavily to try to urge them and persuade them not to do so. For a judge to do this is not unheard of, but it's pretty. You know, prior restraint was thought of as one of those fixed things in the constellations when it came to media law.

And so to do that was taken as perhaps a very early warning sign of other encroachments upon the media.

CONAN: Tom Rosenstiel?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: I think that listening to David, it's fair to say that judges and courts operate in a political context. And when the press is less popular, there's less of a cost, less of a risk for a judge, whether an elected judge or an appointed judge, to take on the press, to treat the press like any other - journalist like any other citizen. During the time that David was talking about, when those privileges were considered to be sort of sacrosanct, if a judge took on the media and threw reporters in jail as happened in the 1970s in some famous cases, that judge was vilified by - in the press generally.

And there was a heavy toll to be taken. There isn't a toll on these guys, or at least I think they perceive there isn't a toll to be taken.

CONAN: Well, as David points out, a lot of these cases are in federal court and federal judges are of course appointed for life. And so they - David?

FOLKENFLIK: Let me make one other point. You know, in talking to people at the Justice Department, you know, it is sort of there's this elaborate process under the attorney general guidelines over how you use, for example, subpoena, the identity of sources for journalists. They in response to criticism over both the BALCO Steroids Case, the subpoenas in that case, as well as the Scooter Libby trial, in which pretty much they got everything from every reporter they wanted, the Justice Department said, well, actually this is not uncommon and it's not accelerated under this administration. It's happened about 13 times since 1991. And they broke it down by year but they didn't break it down by type of case or what it was exactly. It's a little tough to tell.

I will say that in talking to news executives, as opposed to Justice Department officials, news executives across the country will say they are seeing increasing encroachment upon the notion that - by government officials, by prosecutors in particular, that the media is serving a useful role and that they respect and understand it, even if it's one at times in conflict or with competing interest in their own.

CONAN: David - David, thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate your time today.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Great to see you.

CONAN: David Folkenflik, NPR's media correspondent, with us today from the Pointer Institute in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And still with us is Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and here's an e-mail question from Pie(ph) in Minneapolis. I hope I have that right. Sanpai(ph), excuse me.

Please ask your guest if (unintelligible) is exclusive to the United States, the Western world, or is it global?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, I think that, you know, that the - the fundamental thing that's driving the segregation of audience is technology. We've seen an explosion in the number of news outlets or outlets that are presenting news and information. That is what is causing the decline in audience and that decline in audience is what in turn leaves to the pressure on revenues.

Some of the most interesting citizen Web sites are coming out of cultures that don't have a lot of robust media. One of the most interesting ones that we've saw in our content analysis was a site called Global Voices, which is - comes out of Asia and has a team of volunteer editors who process information that they see around the country. And if you go that Web site, you'll see a lot of things that are covered that aren't covered in the traditional press or not given a lot of emphasis in the traditional press.

It's one of the most fascinating and exciting citizen media sites. And in our study of 38 - a detailed examination of 38 Web sites, it was only one of four that really sort of excelled across a range of content areas. It's a very strong site, very interesting site. And it's not American.

CONAN: And interestingly the one growth area was particularly Spanish language print media, though interestingly Spanish language broadcast in terms of television news is in decline.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, it's having financial pressures. I think part of that is advertising. The ethnic media continues to thrive, I think, for a couple of reasons. One is, as the mainstream press shrinks, that the physical size of newspapers, the staff of newspapers, the amount of news whole(ph) in newspapers, that means that the likelihood that you're going to have distant regions, distant parts of the world that are not particularly hotspots covered are even smaller.

The other thing that's going on is that the immigration that we see today is very different than the European immigration of a century ago. Someone who comes from Bolivia or Mexico or El Salvador today may very well still have family, may be sending money, may go back for visits. Their connection to the home country remains very strong. And as they assimilate and learn English, they continue to consume ethnic media, which is very different than what we saw a hundred years ago, where people would learn English and then would no longer read the German paper, the Yiddish paper or whatever it is, and had no connection to the home country and were trying to Americanize as quickly as possible.

We are seeing second and third generation Spanish speakers who continue to consume ethnic media, and some of that ethnic media, incidentally, is in English.

CONAN: We're talking with Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. A few more of your questions for him after we come back from a short break. We'll also present the TALK OF THE NATION Opinion Page, take two arguments over the verdict in the Lewis Scooter Libby trial, one to pardon him and one to impeach his boss, Vice President Cheney. What are your thoughts on the guilty verdict? 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

In just a minute, we'll go to the opinion page. But right now we're continuing our conversation with Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism about that organization's annual report. And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Chris. Chris calling us from Tucson, Arizona.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi there, Neal, Tom. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

CHRIS: Anyway, I just wanted Tom to just comment a little bit on the rise of comedy shows like "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report," a lesser degree The Onion.

CONAN: And there's now a Fox News version of that, I have yet to see, but Tom Rosenstiel?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: Well, I think - I mean, first of all, these shows are funny. They're ironic, they have an edge to them that penetrates and bursts the bubble of traditional media. Young people and many older people really respond to them. And I think it's fair to say that they are very journalistic in some ways. I mean they do actual interviews with newsmakers, they use videotape and juxtapose actual video of major public figures, and they poke fun at them.

And so it captures a kind of a sensibility. There is information there but that's not, you know, their reason for being. Having been on "The Daily Show," I can tell you that they don't necessarily match your answer to the question that they asked in the tape because they're, you know, it's all for fun. So - but they are clearly a way that people are getting their political - particularly political cues. And they are a force to be reckoned with. I mean there is nothing to say that journalism only comes from sources that are engaged in journalism.

I remember Phil Donahue at a forum that we did many years ago saying as far as he was concerned, the guy who walked into the bar in Chernobyl and said it just blew at that moment had committed journalism.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Chris.

CHRIS: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get - this is Terry. Terry is with us from Wellington, Florida.

TERRY (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

TERRY: Yeah. I wanted to share an experience I had. I listen to ESPN Radio in the mornings with Mike and Mike. And just, they're kind of a goofball group that talk about sports and don't position themselves as journalists, but yet I heard a program with them and they really spoke seriously and showed both sides of racial issues related to sports.

And I found it to be one of the best dialogues I've heard both with them and also with listeners in the sense it was unscripted, it was awkward and uncomfortable, and yet I thought I really learned a lot and I felt like it was a really - it was a good use of my time and I felt like it was a real productive thing to have.

CONAN: They also had long conversations about gay athletes; that after, of course, the book was published, the revelation of the former pro-basketball player who now says he's gay. The book was published by ESPN, so you have to wonder about those kinds of tie-ins too. But Tom Rosenstiel?

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: I think if you accept the idea that we're in a show-me era of journalism, you - if the source of someone with whom you feel you have a relationship, and there's some trust, if they tell you information, you're more willing to accept it. You may have very little relationship with the byline in a newspaper, and that's why viral marketing, e-mail, journalism is occurring in conversation.

A great journalism scholar named James Carey, who passed away last year, said that journalism in its essence is conversation among citizens. Now, traditional journalism provides information that stimulates that conversation, but it doesn't end when the information ends and the conversation begins. It's all in the end about giving information to citizens so that they can sort of be self-governed, be free, navigate their way through the day. And that can - and this is what journalists have to come to terms with - come from many different sources.

We need to be part of that conversation and not resent it.

CONAN: Terry, thanks very much for the call.

TERRY: Thank you.

CONAN: And one final question, this by e-mail from Dan. I find podcasts an excellent source for news. I don't have time to read the paper or go online or listen to a full radio program during the day. I can download the podcast before I leave for work and catch up on the highlights with podcasts in the evening. He notes parenthetically, it would be great if TALK OF THE NATION had a podcast. Well, we do, and it's not available on the NPR site. Anyway, Tom Rosenstiel.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: This is the ultimate expression, I think, of journalists being their own editor - I mean, I'm sorry, consumers being their own editor. When I Google something, and I'm looking for the answer to something specific, I am editing.

I am not simply reading every story from start to finish, and podcasting is the most intense version of that because I've actively said I'm going to listen to something later. I may even have specifically in mind what it is I want to podcast. I am really - it's like packing your lunch instead of running down at noon on the spur of the moment.

You can eat a better lunch. You cannot waste time. You don't have to wait in line, and you get to eat exactly what you want. And all you have to do is have your stuff together, and you have to be organized. You have to know what you're doing.

CONAN: And you may not know what you're missing, though.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: You may not know what you're missing, absolutely. You are within your own realm, and you lose the serendipity of opening up the paper, and although you - if the podcast menu is set up properly, that may happen. The fact is I think we are all going to be a smorgasbord of media every day and picking lots of different things. And if we get the mix right, it doesn't all have to be the same thing, and it doesn't all have to be the old thing. Hopefully, some serendipity is part of that.

CONAN: Tom Rosenstiel, thanks very much. We appreciate your time today.

Mr. ROSENSTIEL: My pleasure.

CONAN: Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism here with us in Studio 3A in Washington. When we come back, Scooter Libby trial and fallout on the Opinion Page.

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