The Times, they are a-changing

If you can believe all the hype about Apple’s new tablet computer, the “iPad,” it’s yet another product ready to “change the world.” Of course, it’s hard to write off Apple. They do come up with world-changing ideas. Whether we have an iPhone or another “smart phone,” we’re all connected in ways that would have been hard to imagine a few short years ago (after all, the iPhone has only been around for three years)!

The rapid change in the media, the way we get information, and the way we connect with one another, was discussed at a panel I recently moderated for the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation (RDDC). Part of the “Repositioning Rochester” series, the panel of Rochester media executives discussed the way their industry is changing – and how it affects the way they cover the regional economy.

I trust you agree that how the media covers a changing and evolving regional economy – especially when our industry is also undergoing rapid change and is part of the evolution – is a timely topic. Journalists have come under a great deal of pressure to cover and explain what’s going on in the economy, both locally and nationally. The financial meltdown has created more interest and more need for comprehensive and understandable reporting about the economy. At the same time, the future of journalism, and how the Internet is changing everything, especially media, has become part of the debate. For those of us in the media, it makes for “interesting times.”

I shared with the audience what I heard at another panel recently, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. The topic was the role of Public Media in meeting community information needs.

I heard that the idea that we have one main site where we get our news is mostly obsolete. Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said 92% of Americans say they get their news from multiple platforms – throughout the day.  Not only that, but they tend to “graze;” that is, they visit between two and five websites on average. But only a third of those surveyed said they had a favorite site. This is beginning to change the concept of “brand.”

Think of it like this…the difference between leaning back – and leaning forward. At one time, you leaned back while CBS gave you the news of the day; you waited for the network news, and it came to you. Today, you lean forward. You go online to find the news about the topics you’re interested in, you listen to podcasts, you watch live streams, or perhaps you go to specific stations or channels (I hope that WXXI’s channels are among them).  When it comes to satisfying our appetite for news, we’ve become “hunter-gatherers.”

You may even participate in creating content, as do the 40% of Americans who post to Facebook, Twitter, or create dueling YouTube videos, to name just a few of the social media sites.

We heard that the “iPhonization of America” is going to continue and increase, especially as wireless networks become faster. If you were in an airport recently, you probably saw people watching March Madness basketball on their smart phones (unless you were traveling through Washington, where people were watching the health care debate on C-Span).

Some believe this “technological dislocation” has created an extraordinary opportunity to reinvent how we do journalism. That’s the view of Kinsey Wilson, the manger of Digital Media at NPR. Wilson came from USA Today, where he helped merge the print and online news staffs. He was also a print reporter for 15 years, six of them in the mid 1980’s right here at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

So is there a “crisis in journalism?” Is this about a “crisis in revenue?” Print circulation at the D&C may be declining, but online circulation is increasing. The challenge is how to monetize the online content, especially when we’ve trained people that information on the Internet is free.

News continues to be an important product for local television stations. Many stations are increasing the number of hours devoted to local newscasts, even though many are working with smaller and smaller staffs.

On the public media side, WXXI will participate in an initiative funded, in part, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), designed to strengthen local journalism. WXXI is the lead station in a multi-media project we call “The Innovation Trail,” which will cover the ways that Upstate is working to reinvent itself – to change from manufacturing to a knowledge- based economy. In addition to Rochester, this project includes public stations in Buffalo, Oswego/Syracuse, Binghamton, and Albany. 

With about a million dollars in seed funding from CPB, and $400,000 from the stations involved, we hope to make a difference in the understanding of the Upstate economy – how we face similar challenges and opportunities, what’s working, and what needs to be reinvented. This project will create seven new positions in Upstate, three of them based here in Rochester at WXXI.

As always, we will continue to provide you with thoughtful, in-depth news coverage including reports from Karen DeWitt at our Albany News Bureau, compelling interviews by Bob Smith on 1370 Connection, and comprehensive coverage from WXXI’s local news team. And it is still, above all else, your membership dollars, and belief in what we do that makes all this possible. Your support allows us to provide the community with a deeper understanding of issues that affect the world around us.