media spotlight: pbs tracks trends

a five-member panel hosted by pbs' newshour deliberated the changing media landscape

surviving in a digital tsunami

PBS NewsHour host Gwen Ifill led a five-member panel consisting of local print, digital and broadcast personalities in discussing The Changing Media Landscape, the last stop on a multi-state tour taking the public’s news temperature in cities across the country.

The 90-minute discussion, held today at St. Petersburg’s Poynter Institute, represented community, for profit, consumer and business POVs. It opened to an audience that included a contingent of Iraqi journalists by acknowledging the challenges facing a recession battered journalism that’s also being hammered by social media’s cultural transformation of how consumers take their news.

St. Petersburg Times editor Paul Tash held out hope for the future of print by comparing paper and ink news gatherers to other businesses ranging from car dealers to bank chains that have suffered as much or more than papers, without anyone suggesting that they’d disappear as a result.

John Schueler, president of Media General’s Florida Communication Group, was equally optimistic in defending Media’s local collection of print, broadcast and web efforts which include the Tampa Tribune and NBC affiliate WFLA.

a small contingent of Iraqi journalists listened to translationRepresenting local public broadcasting news outlet WEDU was Rob Lorei, a familiar community figure who argued that not enough was being done to cover local news, and that more was needed to make news both relevant and interesting. All coalesced around the need to continually discover the stories too often overlooked in pursuit of bigger name recognition.

Rounding out the panel were Tampa Bay Business Journal editor Alexis Muellner and Poynter interactive editor Ellyn Angelotti. Though neither is involved in consumer media, both offered opinions that basically paralleled the other major viewpoints: work smarter by concentrating on core constituencies and maintaining local angles.

For a forum convened to discuss media’s current challenges and future survival, comment on digital’s role in defining both was surprisingly light. Angelotti was the lone voice for social media, and even then the lack of a twitter hashtag at the outset signaled the continuing disconnect between traditional silo-based organizations and digital audiences.

And it wasn’t until the audience quizzed the panelists that the issue of trust and authority came up, both hot topics in the battle to retain readers and viewers restless with real or perceived differences with content. Not clear – how many more circulation pages can be cut before the economics of print can no longer be sustained. Most think hard copy will survive in some form or another, but the format may be something of a hybrid compared to the traditional concept of a daily paper.

The event left more questions open than answered. From the marketing perspective, sponsors PBS NewsHour and local outlet WEDU were able to turn out their core constituency – overwhelmingly seniors, who for now will keep renewing. Connecting to tomorrow’s audience will have to wait.