WSJ editor ponders future of journalism

By Mischa Fierer

Newspapers must assign their print editions to analysis and their web editions to breaking news if they hope to survive new waves of technology, a prominent Wall Street Journal columnist said yesterday at the Graduate School of Business (GSB).

In a 45-minute speech to an audience of roughly 70 students and faculty at the GSB’s Harper Center, former Journal publisher and college alumnus L. Gordon Crovitz (A.B. ’80) said that traditional newspapers must embrace the Internet if they hope to maintain readers and profits.

“Increasingly, people know what happened the day before the day before,” he said.

Crovitz added that many students do not read daily print news covering yesterday’s events because for them it is already old news. They’ve already seen it on the Internet, he said.

The Internet is best at providing hourly, but shallow, coverage, while print editions excel at giving readers in-depth analysis, he said. Papers must accept this, Crovitz said, rather than continuing to attempt to entice readers with front-page coverage of events they’ve seen online.

He added that these challenges might pose difficulties for smaller newspapers with fewer resources.

Crovitz spearheaded the online version of the Journal, which was launched in 1996.

He compared many print publications that adamantly refuse to integrate the Internet into their operations to his child, who at age 18 months tossed sand at the ocean in a bid to stop the breaking waves. For print media, the waves are made of both rising reader choice and a rising focus on web media. Readers can choose from so many outlets that they have gained an edge over publishers, forcing publishers to seek out readers through online venues.

Readers turn to The Economist and the Journal, Crovitz said, because both publications sift through a deluge of RSS feeds, news wires, and stories to target business readers rather than all readers.

Crovitz enthroned the Journal as an example of targeted reporting, citing an example of how it covered a devastating New York fire when Crovitz was visiting the city in his college days. He recounted that while The New York Times ran “Midtown Blaze Kills 30” as its headline, with a teary picture of a fireman carrying a young woman out of the building, the Journal ran a paragraph-long blurb, in the back pages, that read “IBM anti-trust papers saved from blaze.”

That was “the kind of information business people need to know,” Crovitz said.

The Marjorie Kovler Visiting Fellows Program and the Graduate Business Council Distinguished Speakers Series sponsored the lecture.