In December 2009 I began working on an article dealing with the future of newspapers. During this time I contacted Mr. Walter V. Robinson, Pulitzer Prize Winning Investigative Journalist for The Boston Globe who is known for his work dealing with the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church in 2002. Robinson was also named Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Northeasten, where is he currently teaching.
Robinson had come to Dover High School in Dover, New Hampshire in 2008 to speak with The Tide staffers about Journalism. The Tide was the largest broadsheet student run newspaper in New England at that time (I was Managing Editor, but that's another story entirely).
So, I contacted Robinson, because with various media sources talking about the "decline of newspapers" I thought it would be very smart to talk to the man whose investigative journalism for The Boston Globe is how the public was informed about the Roman Catholic Church scandal. This was not breaking news "you heard it first" on CNN; it was first told from The Boston Globe.
The following is the interview I had with Robinson over the course of a week via telephone calls and a few e-mails. The quotes are as accurate as possible (I typed the quotes while on the phone with him), and portions of quotes and questions may be ommitted for the sake of relevance. The order in which the questions were asked may not be the same order in which I am posting.
Nikky: What made you choose to be a print journalist?
Robinson: If you want to do serious journalism the place to do it is in print. I wasn't really qualified to do anything else. I started as a student intern reporter working for The Globe in 1972, and I worked at The Globe until 2006.
N: How have you reacted to articles that suggest newspapers and print are dying out?
R: Chronically prognosis is not great, incase wonder drug is developed. Dying out, yeah some papers have because they took on loads of debt, most newspapers are still making money. It’s a little pre-mature to say newspapers are dying out. When radio first came out people thought that would be the end of newspapers.
N: What is your opinion of newspapers transferring over to the web?
R: The web is hurting newspapers; if we could roll the clock back 10 years every publisher in America would do that. People get news online and they are not paying for it. You cannot totally transfer to the web because there is not enough revenue. It's like opening a restaurant and saying Friday and Saturday night we feed you for free, so who would go in Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, [or Thursday] for a meal? The Globe has over 300 million in revenue for print and only about 40 million for boston.com. Everybody in the news business is trying to figure out ways through micropayments or delivering it. We are trying to figure out a way for people to pay for the news [online], everybody is trying different things. We have giving it away now for 15 years.
N: You are one of the journalists that I consider a role model to me, because I want to one day be an investigative journalist and write for newspapers or other forms of print, but with the decline of newspaper sales many schools has been pushing for journalism majors to learn more about broadcast and radio because those may be the only jobs making a profit. What is your reaction to this?
R:Somebody should tell them that the number of jobs being lost in radio and tv is worse than in newspapers. Particulary true in tv news. Every mainstream media outlet has lost viewers or readers. It's like the Bruce Springsteen song "57 channels and nothing on." Tv lost audiences, 6 local news stations in Boston lost huge amount of advertising. They have had to cut back on reporters and producers. Radio historically has never really had that many reporters. They have people who rip and read. Boston has one serious news radio station, WBZ, even they cut back. I best thing for students is to learn how to be good journalists, good reporters, and it doesn’t matter [what medium you do it for]. And also learning how to do multi media. Every newspaper and every tv station and radio station, including Boston Globe website reporters write stories for print and web and shoot video for website and do audio. Same thing happens at channel 5 in Boston the reporters who go out and do stories for the 6 o'clock news, also write for the websites. Basically anybody studying journalism should know how to use flip video and how to edit and upload onto the websites.
N: How has it felt starting out as a journalist and becoming a public figure?
R: The nice thing about being a newspaper reporter is that people generally do NOT know you - unlike television reporters. In my case, I think that for mant years, people knew my work and my name. Obviously, in the last 10-12 years, my work has had more visible impact, and I have become more visible. Which means there are very few people who won't return my phone calls. It probably also means that any mistake I make will be magnified. I suppose that's a fair trade-off.
N: What do you think newspapers need to do to keep themselves 'alive'?
R:Newspapers will survive, in different form to be sure. Less newsprint, more online, and, I hope, new business models that will produce the revenue that will sustain good reporting. Newspapers need to remain relevant to people's lives by digging up the information they need to navigate their way through life's everyday challenges.
N: How has print journalism evolved/changed throughout your career?
R:Newspapers - who knew? - had their golden age in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. The journalism got much better, the reporting and writing more sophisticated, newspapers had much more money to hire large staffs and pursue more stories and good reporters and editors became well-paid. But most of those gains have been lost in this decade, thanks to the collapse of our economic model.
N: Thank you so much for answering my questions.
R: Thanks for being a great interviewer; you are really well-prepared... Best of luck; you have a great future.
And that concludes my first blog entry. Cheers.
"...because I'm Nikky Raney and you're not."