|The death knell for newspapers has been ringing loudly for several years now as readers have migrated to the Internet for instant information increasingly supplemented with audio, video and luring personalized links.
Classified ads, once a major source of newspaper income, could qualify as an endangered species.
Newspapers have laid off reporters and editors, eliminated foreign bureaus and costly investigative teams, and watched advertisers move to the Web.
Four media heavyweights discussed the plight -- or perhaps passing predicament -- of newspapers at a Stanford symposium Monday evening with a blend of pessimism and optimism. The audience filled Cubberley Auditorium in Stanford's School of Education.
Harry Chandler, a 1975 Stanford graduate and member of the family that owned the Los Angeles Times for 118 years, mentioned repeatedly the "pain" the future holds, in a dispirited tone.
He predicted continued declines in readership and revenue culminating in an eventual stabilization, but at a lower level. Newspapers will have to cut people and space, diversify their businesses and search for "benevolent billionaires" willing to operate the paper as a civic service.
He suggested papers band together to send only one correspondent to cover a particular issue, tailor the salaries of editors to company performance, introduce a system akin to television ratings and experiment by having paid journalists supervise volunteer bloggers.
Chandler also highlighted the recent move by PasadenaNow.com to have reporters in India cover city council meetings in Pasadena. The Indian-based news reports have been withheld due to a national uproar.
The only uncertainty is "where and how much pain is everyone going to endure," Chandler said.
But Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, Marissa Mayer, Stanford grad and Google vice president, and Gary Pruitt, chief executive officer of the McClatchy Company, were much more hopeful.
Professionally developed news may not always be delivered with paper and ink, but it will continue and perhaps even thrive in the future, they said.
Keller acknowledged the industry faces a "wrenching transition" but he believes information gathered by skilled reporters -- who value accuracy, impartiality, transparency and independence -- is a valued commodity in the marketplace.
The variety of reading a newspaper also has value: The "glorious and valuable serendipity" experienced by newspaper readers who discover something they didn't know interested them is also a unique offering of newspapers, he said.
And Wikipedia, Google News and most bloggers rely heavily on the first-hand reporting by professionals, Keller said.
He predicted that "newspapers that resist panic around them and stay true to their mission will endure," just as they survived earlier recessions that challenged The Times during the mid-1970s and late 1980s.
Mayer predicted most newspapers that survive will focus on local news not available elsewhere while some will figure out how to deliver international and national news profitably.
Google News ultimately helps the industry by helping readers discover new sources of news or directs them to old favorites, Mayer said.
Google is even converting some loyal online advertisers into print advertisers for targeted newspapers, she said.
Figuring out the best way to make money while delivering online news remains a challenge, the panelists agreed.
The Times has experimented with a "TimesSelect" service that allows readers to pay for additional content and is planning a compact Times Reader that a user can print out and carry with them, Keller said.
When fielding questions from an audience that filled Stanford's Cubberley Auditorium, Keller and Pruitt agreed that competition is good for newspapers and Mayer noted that Google believed it could do more good than harm by entering the Chinese market.
The challenges facing the industry are formidable, but the death of newspapers was also heralded when radio and then television were introduced in the 1920s and 1950s, Pruitt said.
"It's likely to get more stressful before it gets less stressful," Pruitt said. But newspapers should not gut newsrooms to ride out the transition, he said.
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