"Editors and staff feel scared," Tim McGuire, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said in his speech Wednesday at the group's annual convention. They are worried that the publishers' drive for profits will force papers to sacrifice quality.
But the word Thursday from two of the industry's most powerful CEOs was that the values of quality journalism can be upheld even while keeping an eye on the bottom line.
"Knight Ridder has always had top journalism," said Tony Ridder, CEO and chairman of Knight Ridder, whose newspapers include The Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News. "But I'd like us to be a top-tier financial performer as well. I don't think that's incompatible."
"We all faced the horrendous economic situation of last year and also faced the need for more and better journalism after 9/11," said John W. Madigan, chairman and CEO of the Tribune Co., whose holdings include the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. "I think we'll go back to a period of growth," he predicted, as the economy recovers from the recession. The two men spoke at the ASNE's panel discussion on the future of newspapers.
The day before, McGuire, editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, had outlined several ways for editors "to create a future in which news values and profits can co-exist in the same sentence."
"Grow or die must be the motto of both the editor and the publisher," McGuire said in his speech Wednesday.
"If the editor and publisher are (both) committed to growing readership, circulation and the entire franchise, the debate (in which the boardroom and the newsroom sometimes seem at cross purposes) would be reshaped in countless companies," McGuire said.
He added that this was a critical moment for the newspaper industry.
"We must put our whole force and our whole thought into finding ways that profits and news values can live happily together," McGuire said.
Another panelist on the future of newspapers, Sandra Mims Rowe, editor of The Oregonian in Portland, said a newspaper needs to have the resources to do in-depth stories even in times of belt-tightening.
"If we don't do that, then what we're doing is more TV(-style news) on dead trees," Rowe said.
The fourth panelist was David B. Stoeffler, a former editor who is vice president for news at newspaper chain Lee Enterprises.
"I think there's never been a better time to be a journalist," Stoeffler said.
The ASNE audience on Thursday that heard from media CEOs Ridder and Madigan included Zack Stalberg, editor of Knight Ridder's Philadelphia Daily News, and Bill Marimow, editor of the Tribune Co.'s Baltimore Sun.
In their mid-50s, both men talked with United Press International, before the session started, about what fascinates them about newspaper journalism.
"We have a tremendous amount of influence (in the community), if we choose to use it," said Stalberg. "To me, that's the most interesting part of the (newspaper) game."
"What turns me on are great stories," said Marimow. "If you look at papers that are excellent papers, every day there are stories that entertain you, inform you or make a difference for people in our communities."
The ASNE, which has some 800 members, is made up of editors from daily newspapers in the Americas. The convention site was changed Tuesday from the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Washington to the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel a few miles away after a water main broke at the JW Marriott, flooding two floors.
The convention, which opened Tuesday, will end Friday afternoon. The group will hold next year's annual convention in New Orleans.
The ASNE on Thursday elected five members to the board of directors from a field of 10 candidates: Susan Bischoff of the Houston Chronicle, Gerald M. Boyd of The New York Times, Frank M. Denton of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Carolina Garcia of the San Antonio Express-News and David A. Zeeck of The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash.