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Pulitzer Center Update February 2, 2009

Broken News: What went wrong and how to make it right

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Broken News Flyer

The following is an excerpt of "Broken News: What went wrong, and how to make it right" an address delivered by Pulitzer Center Executive Director Jon Sawyer to Davidson College, February 2, 2009.

I was at a conference last Friday in New York where we talked, no surprise, about the search for new models that would make it possible to sustain independent, high-quality journalism.

The organizer of the conference was Geanne Rosenberg, director of journalism at City University of New York's Baruch College. She shared a YouTube clip from more innocent times, back in 1981, when San Francisco television station KRON aired a breezy report on an offbeat new idea – making daily newspapers available on the screens of the boxy personal computers that were just then beginning to make their mark.

I'd like to begin with that brief clip, to give you a sense of how far we've come:

What I liked especially was the editor saying newspapers were spending a lot of money trying to figure out the Internet but that he wasn't sure they'd ever make much money – and then the television anchor at the end noting that it took two hours to download a copy of one day's newspaper and that each hour of internet access cost $5. Not much chance, she said that electronic delivery of newspapers would be much competition for the print edition anytime soon.

I don't think any of us anticipated how fast the economics would change, how the internet could destroy the business basis of an industry that year after year had been among the nation's most profitable while at the same time that same internet could shrink the world and democratize the flow of information like nothing since Gutenberg's press. It happens that my career encompassed the golden era of newspaper journalism, and at the same time what will most likely be seen as its final days.

To view full presentation, download the PDF below.

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