T he development of modern technologies have posed problems for traditional print media – which are losing readers because today people prefer to learn about news from the Internet. What is the main challenge to traditional media? How can it retain readers and cope with those challenges? On these and other issues, Tabula talked with David McCraw, Vice President and Assistant General Counsel of The New York Times Company, when he visited Batumi.
How do the Internet and modern technologies affect traditional media? Do you think that print media will disappear?
One of the key factors here is what advertisers and readers think about print products. At this time, advertisers are losing faith in print media. Part of our readers are making a transition, they are getting news from other sources. You know that circulation depends on advertisement. Readers are changing their view on news. One of main reasons for this is a change in culture; advertisers have a lot of new options.
I don't think print media will disappear. In the short run, newspapers will stay around, because there are a lot of people who just like them as a way to get news. For these people, print products are best way to get news.
I was in Germany and I saw a lot of closed book shops; they are closing every day. The main reason for that is that people get their books through amazon or read online. In the United States, there is a kind of mixed situation. There are lots of people making a transition to reading on an iPad.
Even though the Internet is not free of charge, some prefer to get news from it. We can offer new opportunities to our readers – today, most forms of print media have their own webpages. Newspaper and magazine buyers can get the full webpage service far cheaper by buying papers.
The Internet and modern technologies provide opportunities for anyone to be a sort of journalist without being asked to observe standards or being subject to any control. What is the impact of the expanding blogosphere on professional standards and the respectable media?
There are several things to this. In America, the high standard of media freedom was based on professional journalists and responsible editors. There are doubts about this now.
I had a case where a court showed a video in a public court. Under US law we requested a copy of that video, but the judge refused to provide it because he was afraid it would then be on YouTube all the time. That video was taken by a security camera and showed a politician with his girlfriend. In a world where everybody can be a publisher, everybody can be a journalist, only respectable media can protect media standards. It's very hard to get your voice heard when there is so much noise everywhere.
Because of Facebook and Twitter, professional journalists have new opportunities and rich ways of reporting. When our reporters go out, they know what people are thinking, what the politicians' positions are – so the professional media has better ways of getting information and reporting it.
You have said that circulation depends on advertisement. Advertisements come from business. How much does business affect editorial independence?
Historically, we have been very concerned that editorial independence is very important, it's like a tradition in The New York Times. I think it's a problem for smaller newspapers; they become more financially challenged. In smaller newspapers journalists sometimes write news that is important for the advertisers; articles become part of advertisement.
The most important thing is not to lose trust, in that case people will no longer read your papers, which means losing ads.
In 2011, The New York Times was approached by its colleagues at the Guardian about thousands of previously undisclosed documents intercepted by Julian Assange's Wikileaks organization, touching off an international debate about press freedom, whistleblowing, and the future of journalism in the digital age. Since you were the principal decision maker in the NYT about which Wikileaks documents to publish or not, could you please elaborate on the legal and ethical implications of working with such secret documents – and the rationale behind the NYT's decision to publish details.
When you have that opportunity, you have a big responsibility too. We understood this. Our journalists really understood that the USA and the world needed to understand these documents in context. So it was very hard to read them, understand them, put them in context, and to write about them. There was a problem of classification. We spent a lot of time thinking about what would happen if we published these documents. If we became convinced that the result would harm someone, we didn't publish it... we tried to be responsible in the presentation of information.
Overall, I think it showed couple of things. It showed that the American state department is actually doing a good job. Many people understood that, in a world full of crazy people, there are some very intelligent people working in the state department.
The second thing the case showed us is how strong press freedom is in the US. The government never tried to stop the media. There was an understanding that government has its role and that the role of the press is very important too.
One can often hear criticism that the mainstream media is biased. What is your take on that?
I think that the mainstream media tries very hard to be fair. You know that the US has a very different tradition of media standards. Sometimes people think that it's biased. I think this is a criticism of the stories we choose and what we wrote about them. We write about things that are of interest of our area. Sometimes there are questions about why you are not writing about other themes, writing other stories. The answer is that we are reader biased.