- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

For better or worse, newspapers are all shook up by the Internet. Even the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) is considering dropping “newspaper” from its title in the name of modernity.

“Do we work for newspaper companies or news companies? If our newsrooms also produce video and podcasts and magazines and free-standing Web publications, does the single word ‘newspaper’ really define who we are?” ASNE President David Zeeck asked 700 editors gathered in Washington last week for the group’s annual meeting.

“I don’t have a final answer, but a transition of identity already is under way,” said Mr. Zeeck, who is executive editor of the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.

A redesigned ASNE logo now bears the motto, “Leading America’s newsrooms.” There’s no mention of “newspaper.”

The update could be premature, however. Some studies reveal Americans are not quite ready to surrender their familiar daily paper.

A 700-page news media analysis released March 12 by the Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 66 percent of those who followed political news, for example, preferred newspapers. A University of Southern California survey of nearly 1,500 adults released in December found that 69 percent of Americans look to newspapers for information, 13 percent relied on Internet sources and less than 5 percent go to podcasts.

“Consumers still rely heavily on traditional media for the information they need to make purchasing decisions and to consider issues,” the survey stated.

The Pew Research Center also found a nation not yet sold on newfangled news. A Pew “news habits” survey of 3,406 adults released in July found 4 percent of the respondents consulted political opinion blogs while 23 percent went online to retrieve news. Nine percent reported reading their local newspaper online.

“The arrival of the Internet as a news option has not changed the basic pattern of news consumption over the past decade,” the Pew survey stated.

Like their ASNE peers, editors elsewhere are rushing to embrace the Internet with gusto: 79 percent welcome the online push and “new media,” while 83 percent are optimistic about the future of newspapers, according to a survey released Thursday by Reuters, Zogby International and the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers (WAN), which represents 18,000 papers.

The survey of 435 editors in chief found that 40 percent said online news will be the most common format within 10 years, and 35 percent said print “will reign supreme.” More than half are convinced the quality of journalism will improve.

Editors are attuned to a “21st-century readership,” said WAN spokesman Bertrand Pecquerie. “They know how to effectively make the transition to online journalism without reducing editorial quality. Content matters more than ever.”

So does an equal playing field, apparently.

“Many editors now view news as a ‘conversation’ with readers rather than a ‘lecture’ from journalists,” said Monique Villa of Reuters Media.

Three quarters of the respondents — from Europe, Africa, Asia, Russia, North and South America — said this personal interplay was a “positive” development. The survey was conducted between October and December, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

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