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May 17, 2001

Broder discusses changes in journalism

Washington Post correspondent David Broder said his newspaper is pumping $40 million-$50 million a year into its web site (and losing about half of that money) in the hope of luring and retaining readers in the digital age.

The site averages 1 million hits daily, so the gamble is paying off in terms of readership, Broder told a Pitt discussion group prior to his May 15 American Experience lecture.

But how much longer, he wondered aloud, will newspapers such as the Post — and customers who buy papers in printed form — be willing to subsidize Internet operations enabling e-readers to get their news for free?

Top executives at The Washington Post are urgently debating such issues, Broder said, but he admitted: "At my level, we really have no clue where we're going to be 10 years from now."

Demographic surveys show an alarming drop-off in newspaper readership among people under age 30, a generation that was suckled on TV and the Internet. "We don't know where they're going to turn for news," Broder said.

Broder said publishers and editors of the Post, The New York Times and other major dailies assume there will continue to be a market, electronically and/or in printed form, for responsible news reporting and commentary, despite the rise of Internet rumor-mongers such as Matt Drudge.

One downside of Internet news is that some readers find it difficult to differentiate among trivia, speculation and genuine news, Broder said. "Another thing is that, because readers can pick and choose precisely what they want to read, they lose that serendipity that you get with a newspaper, where a headline or photo may catch your eye" and open up a whole new area of interest, he said.

Broder, a 40-year newspaper veteran, said he can recall when The Washington Post still enforced an iron rule: No cameras allowed in the newsroom. The Post refused to waive its rule even during the filming of the 1976 movie version of "All the President's Men." Filmmakers were forced to build a replica in Hollywood of the Post newsroom.

"Today, we have a permanent television camera platform set up in one corner of the newsroom," Broder said. "All day long, reporters go before the camera to talk about stories they're working on." These updates are broadcast on CNN, the Post's web site and other electronic outlets.

The Post's 1 p.m. deadline for what Broder called its "truncated, mid-day Internet edition" has become just as crucial to reporters and editors as the paper's regular press deadline, he said.

But for all of the technological developments Broder has witnessed, he said the biggest change in journalism during his career has been the dramatic increase in the number of women in the news business.

"Journalism is rapidly becoming a woman's field," he said, noting that women comprise the majority of journalism school students today. Broder said he welcomes the change.

Women reporters tend to be better listeners than men, they're less likely to interrupt during interviews, and are generally "less prone to get conned and psychologically more astute at reading character," Broder said.

He cited a revealing incident from last September's U.S. Senate election debate between Hillary Rodham Clinton and her GOP opponent, Rick Lazio. Early in the debate, Lazio marched over to Clinton's lectern and waved a piece of paper in her face, demanding that she sign a pledge to forswear soft money contributions. Lazio's condescending action backfired, especially among women voters.

Broder said his female colleagues were quicker than he and his fellow male reporters were to spot this as the turning point in the debate, and a key moment in the campaign.

Broder made his remarks during a by-invitation discussion with Pitt faculty, staff, students and administrators prior to his Tuesday night lecture.

–Bruce Steele

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