Contrary to popular belief, journalism and public media are not dead — at least according to Vivian Schiller.
Schiller, the president and CEO of National Public Radio, spoke to an audience of about 50 at a Davenport College Master’s Tea on Monday. She debunked popular fears about the decline of journalism in America and advised news organizations not to rely on old models, but rather to embrace new technologies.
Schiller, who previously served as vice president and general manager of The New York Times’ Web site, joined NPR in 2009 with more than 20 years of journalism experience. She opened her talk with discouraging statistics about the current state of journalism and the media, including the recent loss of tens of thousands of newsroom jobs. But rather than using the statistics to support the widely held belief that the business of news media is in decline, Schiller said the business is in the middle of a revolution.
“It’s really thrilling. The entire industry is changing in front of our eyes,” she said. “Twenty years from now, we’ll look back to today and say, ‘That’s when the innovations happened.’ ”
Schiller argued that it is not journalism itself but the current business model of journalism that is in crisis . She said news media organizations should stop looking back at the “good old days” and realize that robust experimentation, innovation and reinvention are the keys to a successful future for public media.
One of the biggest myths today, according to Schiller, is the belief that the Internet is the worst thing to happen to journalism. This could not be further from the truth, Schiller said.
“The Internet is the most exciting tool for the free flow of sharing information since the printing press,” she said.
Schiller said that not only are the Internet and social media compatible with serious journalism, but both can help news media to reach their audiences in a way that was never before thought possible.
According to Schiller, NPR is the most “re-Tweeted” news source on the popular networking site, Twitter.com, meaning the site’s users often post links to NPR stories. This indicates new levels of audience participation, she said.
“They feel so engaged with us this way,” she said. “It makes them want to participate more.”
To demonstrate, Schiller pointed to an October news story about a boy who was said to be floating in an air balloon his father built. Schiller read comments from NPR’s Web site, in which a few readers posted complicated mathematical equations that proved that a little boy could not be lifted by the air balloon. The readers reached the conclusion that the boy’s alleged flight was mathematically impossible before the news of the balloon’s empty landing even reached news sources.
“The potential for harnessing the collective intellectual power of an audience that is engaged with their news source is staggering,” Schiller said.
Schiller said she embraces technological advancement, and she spoke excitedly about the release of the iPad, which she said is the first portable digital device that can properly serve as a replacement for a newspaper.
Although she said she believes big national newspapers such as The New York Times will weather the movement away from print journalism, she still speculated that technology will mostly replace the business of printed news. Whether in print or online, she said, all that matters is that people get their news — even if it’s on an iPad.
Two students interviewed both said they found Schiller refreshing. Reuben Hendler ’13 said Schiller’s optimistic attitude toward the news industry’s future was encouraging.
Amira Valliani ’10, former executive director of the on-campus publication The Globalist, said she thought the talk presented a valuable point of view on the subject of media.
“We have a lot of written journalism going on at Yale, but you don’t hear a lot about media sources such as the radio,” Valliani said. “It was really interesting to hear from someone who comes from a totally different angle.”