tv [untitled] CSPAN June 8, 2009 10:30pm-11:00pm EDT
it may god lead us on the right path into the white house, and may god bless america. thank you very much everybody. [applause] >> there is still time to get your copy of the c-span's 2009 u.s. congressional directory. district maps and how to contact committees and caucuses. it is $16.95 online on c-span's web site, or call the number on your screen.
you are watching public affairs programming on c-span. up next, former reporter and the creator of hbo's "the wire" talks about the future of journalism. later, dennis blair. on tomorrows "washington journal," we will talk about health care with phil gingrey. then, prof. of the lebanese parliamentary elections. the american enterprise institute on north korea. "washington journal" begins at 7:00 a.m. eastern. later, an oversight hearing on the troubled asset relief program.
we will show a portion of this live, beginning at 10:00 a.m. eastern until the house gavels in at 10:30. now, a journalist and author david simon, a former reporter talks about the challenges facing journalism in an age of media consolidation and declining newspaper circulation. he is known for his work writing and producing tv traumas, such as hbo's "the wire." from the national press club, this is about 55 minutes. >> good afternoon, and welcome
to the national press club for our speaker luncheon today. we are the world's legist -- leading professional organization to journalism. we provide informative programming and journalism education, fostering a free press around the globe. for more information, please visit our web site. on behalf of our 3500 members around the world, i would like to welcome our speaker. we would like to welcome those that are watching live on c- span. we provide are broadcast over itunes for podcasting. i would ask kiley that you please hold your applause during the speech so we have time for as many questions as possible. if you hear applause, it is from guests and members of the
general public that attend our luncheons not mrs. shirley from always working neutral journalists. communications director with the institute for public accuracy. he assured me that he got his name right. injures matter, associate editor and chair of the book and author committee. executive director with the fund for investigative journalism. the newsweek washington bureau chief. senior business editor with national public radio. on the other side of the podium, bloomberg news. organizer of today's luncheon, and the new managing director of
stanton communications. valerie jackson, associate editor. public affairs specialist. independent writer and author of "letters from washington." washington bureau chief, one of our former presidents with hearst newspapers. finally, editor and publisher with american journalism review. now you can give your applause. thank you. [applause] it may come as a surprise to some of you here today. we do not tend to invite members of the press to speak at the podium. it would get way out of control. we do have a special cause to do that today because our speaker
is a special individual. we think that journalists the cover the news and we try not to put them in the spotlight. as i said, today's guest is an exception. david simon honed his skills reporting on the streets of one of the most dangerous cities in our country. after years of reporting, it wasn't the murders, drugs, or other crimes that drove him out of the industry. he told a newspaper because, " some sons of bitches bought my newspaper and its stock -- and it stopped being fun." [laughter] did we have that right? he took a leave of absence from the paper for a full year, chatted to detectives of baltimore's homicide unit. the result was the award winning book "homicide."
he worked as a writer and later as a producer on that award- winning drama. he took a second leave of absence to write "the coroner." it was a book about baltimore's drug trade. that work inspired an emmy award winning it pave the way for the "the wire." the drama that ran for five seasons depicted baltimore's struggles with drugs, corruption, schools and finally back to where we started, the media. in addition to his sometimes unflattering depiction of the media, he continues to vocally criticized the state of contemporary american journalism, taking aim at producers of news. before a senate panel, he said that he believes nothing can
save high end professional journalism. despite all of that, he is doing what he can and continues to work as a freelance journalist and writer. ladies and gentlemen, please give a nice, national press club will come to david simon. [applause] >> i don't know if it is going to be clear on the c-span channel, but i managed to get some solid dressing on my shirt. i felt that i could leave a little bit of lunch where it could be seen, whether it was chinese food, it would be perfect. this is for you, right here. thank you very much for inviting me. i am flattered. ito better knowing now that
journalists are not invited to do this. the funny part about my critique in journalism, such as it is, when you are an expert in this country, when you are in the game killing with it every day, when you are living and breathing it, you are not an expert. you get a few years away, you have a television show -- i am an expert in a television production, and all of a sudden, i am an expert in media. my partner and asking him about education, because he was a former schoolteacher in baltimore, he said the same thing. when he was an expert, no one wanted to hear from me. now that he has a television show, everybody wants to hear his opinions. i am a little suspicious of my own voice on this. i do care about where newspapers
have gone in with a are going. i think i did say that i worry that it was too late for high end journalism. i think i am a little more open ended about it to say that i don't think i see any future for it. i don't see any current feature in the current economic model. i certainly don't see any future for it as long as the journalism community continues to pretend that a sense that we were doing our jobs, that we were heroic in pursuit of our jobs, that we were out here clearing the path for democracy, and then technology shifted and the paradigm changed. now we are stuck. it is not through any fault of our own that we have caught behind the internet. i would believe that if i was not in journalism for 15 years
prior to the arrival of the internet. i saw what we did to our own product. i come from the portion of journalism that was affected first and most. i worked at a chain of newspaper. when i went to work at the baltimore sun, it was family owned. a couple years after that, we were bought by another company. we congratulated ourselves for being bought by the good chain. thank god we are going to be all right. then they were bought by the tribune company. i left journalism in 1995 after 13 years. i was the third buyout at my newspaper. i was maybe a reporter #100 to leave. for those of you keeping score,
the internet was not even a whisper in 1995. the baltimore sun was a monopoly paper. its profit margins that we now know where 37.5%. they were willing to pay for 500 people in order to run the paper out of town, in order to run the news america to the ground. and then to sustain an evening edition of the paper for a long enough to get as many of those viewers -- sorry, enough of those readers to come over to an evening paper. they floated the evening edition to. they ran zone editions to try to get as much circulation as they could and the growth areas of baltimore. they did that i tell that figured out to by the regional papers in those counties. they were willing to have 500
and even 400 reporters when the pursue that they were after was a monopoly. there were not willing to do it to make a great product or even a good product. that is what our industry discovered. they discovered this in the 1980's. they went to wall street, and wall street rewarded them handsomely by basically saying, you know what, we can make a lot more money putting out a mediocre news ticker than putting out a great newspaper. more of wire copy, less reporters, less coverage. this was the bargain that we made. the people who were making this decision had less and less to do with the newsroom and more to do with the board room. two years after i left, the fellow that had taken over the reins of the company came to speak in my newsroom. he gave a speech to talk about
cost centers and profit centers. he never once mentioned in news or journalism, or the mission of the baltimore sun. he talked about product. before he was selling newspapers, he was selling cereal for general mills. he did a bang up job of improving their standing and its price per share in the market coul. i remember walking away from that 45 minute talk which concluded with some suggesting that would it be so bad if reporters could when you are doing a story and see the potential for advertising, if you could maybe throw a call to that advertising department. i remember taking the elevator back to the news room with one of the best reporters of the newspaper. the first two floors were in silence. when the door open, i remember
him saying, "this is over." that was in the early '90s. two years later, i was taking the third buyout. we cheated ourselves. we destroyed our selves. we did it for cash on the barrelhead. the people that did it are now on the golf course down at hilton head probably bemoaning what happened to the wonderful industry that they once held. ambitions were stunted in another way on the editorial side. the same editors that would later stand up at a later point and sacrifice themselves rather than making cutbacks did not stand up at the baltimore sun because there were still worlds to conquer and places to go within the chain, and personal ambitions to be achieved.
no one stood up when the baltimore sun started emptying its doors. we did not stand up when it was happening to other papers five years before us. when they came for those papers, i said nothing because i did not work for them. now the only people left that have any potential for high and journalism are the national papers. they have made incredible profits. pure, unencumbered, raw capitalism is never the answer for anything that involves a public mission and not the answer for american industry. if you look at the wall street and its analysts and big money investors have played with american industries and have depreciated the actual mission of those industries in order to achieve profit, there will be
somebody making money until the day they close the door at the baltimore sun and that the denver post. somebody will figure out a way to make a profit until the very day they close their doors. that would be my critique, that we did this to ourselves. when the internet came along, all of the research and development money that was supposed to be spent in the '80s and '90s so we knew with the internet was and its potential was, so we have placed the industry in a situation where they could thrive, and where you could charge online and deliver more product, not less, and therefore justify charging online, that money went to wall street. it did not go back to newsrooms. the baltimore sun now has 160 reporters covering the metro area that has only grown. there are still people getting up in newsrooms saying that it
is ok, they will do more with less. you do less with less. that is why they call it "less." [laughter] 1 the internet landed, the head editors of my paper still regarded it as advertising for their product. they made that mistake. these youngsters, they will surf the web and they will see our product realize they really want to subscribe to the doorstep version of the paper. they were saying that until a few years ago. i do think there is one last hope for journalism. they must -- we must find a way to charge online. we must create a new revenue
stream for the product. with this has been easier before we visited the product? yes. it would have been a lot easier when the product was something substantial. it now does not resemble that in many markets. it will be easy, i believe, relatively easier -- it will be met easier for the national papers to do so. i think you will see them go to an on-line subscription pay model. after they do it, i think you will see murdock do it. that is the only hope there is. with every day that we delay, another 30 reporters are bought out or laid off. another previously profitable
newspaper thinks it can do without a copy desk or a trade editor, it brings us closer to the abyss. finally, i think the big boys get it. it would have been nicer if they got it five years ago. but we are where we are. that is the only hope i have left. if the times and the post wait long enough, you will see national newspapers like in britain and you will see the washington post st. louis in addition, the "the new york times, denver edition. they will hire 10 or culpable to create an advanced usa today version of a local, zoned paper. they will give you a couple pages of the local metro coverage.
because they are offering you the times or the post, international coverage, and because and get that online for free, and reach a new accommodation with reuters, you are going to see a modern version of the zoned editions replace what we are previously full blooded metro daily newspapers. that is the worst-case scenario. i would rather see local papers try for this model sooner rather than later. i don't know if that is going to happen. i think journalism has a value, a value that will eventually be store itself. you are going to eventually see somebody do start up's. state are going to pay for it with online subscription.
in my whole time as a journalist, you lost money on subscriptions. he lost money. you accepted that and you got it on your display ads. that made. if somebody pays for a third of what cost the baltimore sun to get it to your doorstep now, even less than that actually, it is $22 a month to get the baltimore sun. for $8, for $9, you get it online, that is all profit. there are no trucks, no gas, no printing press. that is the revenue stream. you can generate $300,000 a month if you get a 10th of the baltimore sun's subscriptions online to commit to you.
with that, you can hire about 30 reporters. a lot of our citizens are not going to get it because they are not online. the delivery model is not as democratic. i do believe there is a future, but it begins with content. we are going to have to believe in content and pay for it to provide it, to hire back the talent, and then make other people pay for it. if we don't do that, -- if you put out a product and nobody is willing to pay for it, and the freshman business major will tell you that you don't have a product. it is time to stop pretending. i think that is ultimately where we are going. on that happy note, my shirt has dried. >> we will shift back and forth.
we have several questions, essentially survival skills for those that are still working in daily journalism. people want to know what about young people, what is your advice to them? should they continue to strive for a career in journalism? what about those of us that still work in newsrooms? all of these dynamics that have to do with shifting sands, not only in the industry, but with the pressures of people working more with fewer resources in the newsroom? a little practical advice for people still in the trade were thinking about coming aboard. >> i really don't consider myself an expert on what to do if you are still in the game right now. the one thing that worked for me in a multimedia sense, where i had sort of a marketable
skill, i managed not to get promoted for my entire career. [laughter] i started on the police beat, ended on the police beat, and i have parlayed a to something in a completely different medium. when journalism -- when i was in journalism school, what they told us was that newspapers were going to become more sophisticated, more complex, beets were going to be more specialized. they used to tell us we were going to become more like magazines. that is what they said in the '70s. this is where we were going.
we were going to become more sophisticated. in truth, it became more general list. if you are jumping a story, it is too long. newspapers needed to become more sophisticated, more essential on every beat. and they didn't. make yourself an expert in something if you are a young reporter now could get to be aware of something. there is somebody that wants to know about that, whether it is transportation, crime, politics, make yourself essentials somewhere. don't be a generalist. it has made newspapers irrelevant. >> unfettered capitalism, not good for the industry as you describe it in your speech.
there is discussion about possible not-for-profit model. do you see any future for that working? >> if changed newspapers in these second-tier towns, if they don't get it together and turn the corner and pull themselves through the keyhole of a pay model online, it is going to fall to starbucks could in baltimore, in san jose, any of these cities that are underserved is going to work. i think you'll be able to hire the cream of the bought out, laid off crop of journalists. if you are committed to putting the money back in, i think you will grow it. if you do the math of six, seven, $8 a month for 10%, 15%
of newspapers prior subscription base was and realize that all of that money is now profit, not circulation costs. circulation was a cost center. that has been transformed. on a small scale basis where everybody is committed to just covering the regional area, there is no room for -- a lot of things are not relevant anymore to the local paper. the comex, the crossword puzzle, national coverage. but there is still a market in these regional areas for journalism. ultimately, it will be and non- profit or a very modest profit. somebody needs to say that 5% or sick % growth is ok. nobody said that for many years. nobody stood up and said what we doing to our own ambitions?
here we are. >> how to reporters keep this from happening to the industry again, presupposing that they can't? >> the nonprofit model is the only way you can do that because i believe some of these chains, the tribune company, are so badly run that if they do manage to pull through the keyhole and produce in new revenue stream, they will run right back to wall street, rushing profit in to try to boost their share price. i see no suggestion that suddenly a leadership in journalism has turned a corner. even if the model changes and give them breathing room, i worry that they won't have -- in this country, politically and financially, no one plants and all the tree. they all plant