Journalism couple studying best U.S. dailies for why they matter finds transformation, not death

Two retired journalists set out a year on a project to learn why the best newspapers in America matter to their communities.  In the process, the’ve started to document a story they feel is different from the now-common refrain: “Newspapers are dying.” Not true, say Paul Steinle and Sara Brown, at least not for a long time.

Sara Brown and Paul Steinle
Sara Brown and Paul Steinle

Some of the best newspapers in America — of all sizes — are now reporting profit margins averaging 10% to 15% a year despite devastating drops in advertising revenue over the last five years,  say the couple who are coming to the end of a year-long driving tour of 50 states — profiling one of the best dailies in each one.

U.S. newspapers are transforming, not going out of business, says Steinle, a just-retired journalism professor and academic provost who ran United Press International from 1988-1990.  Brown, his co-researcher and wife, agrees.  On their trip, they also found that:

  • Transformation is bringing new energy to the best newsrooms.
  • Journalists now need multiple skills to perform their jobs.
  • Most papers are hoping then can charge for news on tablets and mobile devices.
  • Papers are unaware of each other’s best practices, especially in meeting challenges of a digital future. In 44 interviews, 44 papers had 44 different titles for the person running digital operations, Steinle said, adding: “It strikes us as fascinating because we see it over and over again how people keep recreating the wheel everywhere.”

The Media Giraffe Project at UMass Amherst has written a short profile of the couple’s work.

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