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Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th Anniversary Event: Sustaining Journalism in the Digital Age

Speakers: John Harris, Editor in Chief, The Politico, Vijay Ravindran, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer, The Washington Post Company, and Vivian Schiller, President and CEO, National Public Radio
Presider: Alberto Ibarguen, President and CEO, John S. And James L. Knight Foundation and Chairman, Board Of Trustees, Newseum
June 30, 2010, Washington D.C.
Council on Foreign Relations



RICHARD N. HAASS (president, Council on Foreign Relations): Welcome, and welcome to this special Council on Foreign Relations event, which, if you haven't noticed, is at the Newseum. My name is Richard Haass, I'm lucky enough to be president of this organization -- the council, not the museum -- and this event is part of the 60th anniversary celebration of the council's Edward R. Murrow press fellowship and as a follow up, logically enough, to the 60th anniversary conference on media and foreign policy that we held in September in New York with some former fellows and foreign correspondents and network news presidents.

And tonight, let me start by thanking the person who truly did make it possible, none other than Alberto Ibarguen, who has multiple roles. He's the museum chairman. He's the Knight Foundation president. But by far, the most important, he's on the board of the Council on Foreign Relations. (Laughter.) I know on which side my bread is buttered.

It's the end of the fiscal year today, so compensation reviews are coming up, so I'm very sensitive to who's my boss at the moment. (Laughs.)

And Alberto has lent his expertise and, even more expansively, this magnificent space for the event tonight.

Now, the goal of the council's Murrow fellowship is to promote the kind of responsible and discerning and thoughtful journalism that Edward R. Murrow exemplified. The nine-month fellowship at the council offers journalists who cover international affairs the rare opportunity -- this is a bit unfair -- to engage in calm, sustained analysis and writing. Not that they don't engage in sustained analysis and writing on a daily basis, but this allows them to do it free from some of the pressures that often do characterize journalists and deadlines.

For example, this year, we've had the council's fellow Kim Barker, a former correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan for The Chicago Tribune. And she's now moved on to ProPublica. And in early September, we'll welcome Matt Pottinger, the former Wall Street Journal correspondent based in Asia, as our new Murrow fellow.

This has been going on since 1949. And over that time, the council has arithmetically, consistently enough hosted over 60 fellows, many of whom still devote their lives to the field of journalism, and several of whom join us tonight.

Is Harry Heintzen here, by the way? Including Mr. Heintzen, who was selected for the fellowship in 1956 by Mr. Murrow himself.

So we also thank our funders from the early days with the Carnegie Corp and the CVS Foundation to more recently the Ford Foundation, which established a challenge grant, and some of the early responders, including Time Warner and the Carnegie Corporation again.

Now, at the council, let me just say, we are committed to sustaining serious international news coverage and producing our own analysis. For us, quality reporting is a vital source of raw material for our scholars and for our members, individual and corporate alike.

And whether we're looking at the situation in Afghanistan or Iraq or the rise of China or the economic developments in the United States or Europe or thinking about global health or the global environment, we need ground truth. And I felt the same way, actually, when when I worked in government. The journalists are some of the best sources of information and analysis out there. I think journalists benefit from their unique culture, the freedom, kind of outsiderness, you might say, that allows them to see, hear, write and say things that other sources simply don't or can't.

But much is changing in this world. And a big part of this has to do with the way news consumers around the world access information. According to a new study by the Pew Research Center, online news sources have surged ahead of national and local newspapers to become the third most common source of information for news consumers in this country, behind local and national TV.

News consumption is clearly changing. People are grazing or foraging information on multiple devices. However, it's interesting. Still, 70 percent say the amount of news is overwhelming. And about the same amount say most news sources today are biased in their coverage.

So the media is grappling with these changes, as are we at the council. We ourselves are publishers -- our magazine, Foreign Affairs, and through our two Web sites, and

So let me just quote Mr. Murrow himself, often the right place to go. "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate, yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box." Now, obviously, Mr. Murrow was speaking of the television in 1958, but he could just have easily been talking about the Internet today.

So the question for tonight and beyond tonight is how the Web and its associated technologies can be used to provide information of a sufficient quality to maintain and inform citizenry.

And we're in good hands and we're fortunate, because we have this extraordinarily experienced and knowledgeable panel, who have both the expertise, but also the practical experience in how journalism is changing and how it should change.

I love to say this to journalists, in particular, this meeting is on the record. Everything you say can and will be used against you. And appropriately enough, the audio, video and transcript will be available on

So please join me in welcoming our panel, and I happily turn things over to the very experienced and capable hands of Alberto Ibarguen. (Applause.)

ALBERTO IBARGUEN: Thank you. And welcome all of you. My instructions say that I have to repeat that it's on the record, three or four times. I must tell you to turn your cell phones off, don't just put them on vibrate, so that we can make sure that everybody in the room, and I hope everybody in the room, can hear. Please wave if you can. Okay, good. (Laughter.) I was going to say, please wave if you can't, but that wouldn't make much sense.

I so appreciate, Richard, your efforts and Camille's to put on this panel for the Council on Foreign Relations. I'm very, very proud that you're all here at the Newseum. If you'll come back to the Newseum, and I can't not put in a plug since I do have an affiliation, a very local affiliation as chair of the board, there is a wonderful Edward R. Murrow exhibit on the fourth floor that you shouldn't miss.

I also want to say one other thing that isn't in the script, and that is that Daniel Shore is here. And I think we should recognize his presence. (Applause.)

I think it couldn't be more appropriate that this is the Murrow series, and that we're talking about journalism during a time of radical change and innovation. And if you think about it, of course, the series was named after him because of journalism, because of his contributions to journalism, because of his journalistic values. But the fact of the matter is, he was twice a major innovator. He was an innovator on radio in bringing radio live to people, making them understand in different ways that they couldn't have understood before, knew how -- figured out how to use the new technology to tell the story. And he did it again later on television.

That is the attitude that I hope we take on this panel. This is not a group of hand-wringing people. And so if you want to cry about the fact that this isn't 1975, probably this is the wrong panel. These are all people I'm delighted to introduce, who are figuring out how to use the technology to inform the democracy.

Bill Nichols was a correspondent with USA Today for 20 years. He is now the managing editor of Politico.

You all have extensive biographies at your desk. I won't bore you with repeating them.

Vijay Ravindran is the senior VP and chief digital officer of The Washington Post, which I think is one of the handful of newspapers in America that have really embraced experimentation on the Web.

And Vivian Schiller is the president of our most important radio news operation, NPR. Vivian was with the before and has been an enormous force for modernization at NPR since she arrived there not even two years ago, has been phenomenally productive there.

I hope today that we touch a little bit on how we're going to ensure that we inform the democracy in the digital age. Since this is the Council on Foreign Relations, we should touch some on foreign affairs and foreign coverage, so that's a little bit more narrow.

And I think we ought to also talk just about -- and maybe we can start there -- about the impact of technology on the way you do your work.

This week, the Obama administration announced an initiative that would almost double the amount of broadband that will be available over the course of 10 years in the country. And that, I would think, for content producers like the three of you, that must be like thinking about Christmastime with all of those additional people available to receive the kind of content that you produce.

So Vivian, let me start with you. How do you think about informing the community in the digital age.

VIVIAN SCHILLER: Well, you actually just answered your own question, which is, for us, we begin and end every project, every decision with the notion of, how do we inform? Our mission is to provide for an informed citizenry. And we have done so very successfully for almost 40 years in broadcast radio.

And in fact, our audiences in broadcast radio continue to grow. We've grown 60 percent just in the last 10 years. And at our most recent ratings period, we have seen yet again another record for broadcast radio, old-fashioned, over-the-air radio to NPR member stations.

But our mission is not radio. Our mission is an informed citizenry. And while radio continues to be at the core of that and has a massive audience, the way that we approach digital media is as a tool to further our mission. So what that has meant and how that's manifested itself is in making sure that we are wherever the audience wants us to be. It is not for us to tell the audience, if you want NPR, you must tune into the radio, although we certainly encourage them to do that and to give to their local station, but we need to be where they are. So it means creating an experience, an NPR experience on everything from the iPhone and the Android platform, to the iPod and podcasting and whatever else comes alone.

We've been -- I was speaking with someone out in the cocktail reception, who said that NPR has taken a platform-agnostic approach, which is sort of right. We embrace all platforms. I wouldn't call us agnostic, because platform-agnostic implies that you take what you've done and you put it out on every platform, indiscriminately. We actually take a very different approach, which is to look at each platform in terms of its own merits and what it can deliver to the audience, and create a customized experience for that platform. So we are platform-embracing, perhaps. (Laughs.)

IBARGUEN: But how do you do that when you go from platform to platform?

Vijay, you've got such a history as a newspaper at The Washington Post. How do you let go of that and be effective on a completely different medium?

VIJAY RAVINDRAN: Well, I think the first step towards that is actually thinking about how different creating news in this multi-platform world is from 20 years ago where you had print. So take our readers in our local distribution 20 years ago, they were expecting to get a completeness from reading the newspaper. It was their only information source, other than television.

And now we're in a world where information is coming from so many different sources. So one of the really important things we've done, starting about two years ago when Katharine Weymouth became the CEO of Washington Post was, being foreign about Washington. So focusing -- so for a national audience, that means being the best we can for politics. For the local residents, it's about being the best utility in the local market.

And that actually is a really focusing element, because it means you're not trying to be everything to everyone, because people are going to get that information from a lot of different sources.

And then the next part, which we've made a lot of strides, it's very unsexy work behind the scenes is, we've merged our digital newsroom with our print newsroom, and we've developed the notion of write wants and publish across. So we have a universal news desk that takes essentially the creation of the reporters and editors, but then figures out all the different ways it can be distributed.

So to give you an example of how things used to be, the print copy for a story would be edited down to the lines needed for the newspaper and then delivered to digital, and digital at that point would put it on the Web site. Well, there was no -- all this stuff was put on the floor. There was all these lines of great content. And for someone out there, that depth would have been great, and it's gone. And that still happens today.

You know, when you talk to someone like Rajiv Chandrasekaran as he comes back from Afghanistan, he has all sorts of good stuff, that there's a set of people out there that really care about what they'd find. And the challenge is that, can you efficiently -- with infinite resources, you can think of all sorts of great things to do. Can you efficiently manage all that information and smartly get it out?

And when I look at what NPR has done with APIs and programmatic interfaces so that you can easily get vendors onboard, I mean, those are the types of -- you have to start with the platform. Your platform is, you're creating this great content. You're focused on what's important to readers. And then you're developing the mechanisms to get it out in all the different mediums.

And I guess you're not platform-agnostic, you're multi-theistic in that there's different platforms and you have a different level of devotion across those, and you're figuring out how best to showcase. And every three months, there's a new device that's making you think, oh, I could be showcasing my contend differently in that context.

IBARGUEN: You and Vivian are still covering the waterfront in terms of subject matter.

You, Bill, have the luxury of focusing the business of this town, on politics. One of the -- the other side of the coin of all of that great content that you can publish electronically that would have ended upon the cutting room floor before is that more and more you see and hear that people are looking at a 10-minute YouTube video is considered an odyssey. You just can't expect people to stay with it that long. How are you succeeding with the kind of depth that you have to provide?

BILL NICHOLS: Well, I think your point has been one of the real changes that we've brought and is a real advantage for us, which is the idea of niche journalism.

I came from perhaps the ultimate general-interest publication at USA Today. So it's been a real transition for me, personally. I mean, when Michael Jackson died, I just felt like, well, why don't we have this on our site somewhere? And people said, well -- (laughter) -- because it doesn't belong on our site.

IBARGUEN: You mean, Senator Michael Jackson? (Laughs.)

NICHOLS: And finally, a young Web producer took pity on me, and we did a slideshow of presidents and Michael Jackson. (Laughter.) So I can rest.

But seriously, I think it's been one of the changes that Politico has helped usher in. And we have the luxury that we don't do everything. And that way we can focus in terms of reporting resources, providing depth, breaking stories on politics, lobbying, Congress and the business of this town.

We believe, and I think there's increasing evidence to buttress this, that that is the way of the future, that that is -- grazing was the verb, I think, that Richard used. That is how people are going to consume news. There will be general-interest sites that will survive and thrive. I think my colleagues represent two of them. But a lot won't.

And I think you will increasingly see sites covering politics, sites covering financial affairs. We can talk more about this later, but I think there will be successful news organizations that will find a way to profitably cover foreign affairs. I think there's a void. There's already people doing it well. And I think it's just a matter of time before there's a big success there.

I think a common theme that we're all talking about, and Vivian put it very well, I think we're reflecting a new, an emancipation of readers. I think all of us -- I just passed a 30-year milestone in this business about 10 days ago. And when I started, there was almost a dictatorial aspect to the news business. We're going to tell you what to read, we're going to tell you how to read it. We're going to even tell you when to read it. And that's all gone.

And I think part of the challenge that we face is providing a level of depth, a level of coverage that specific communities want, and providing it when they want it.

I mean, we're often not for being too fast. And my counter to that argument is, what's the alternative? I mean, that's the world we live in. You can like it, or you can not, but those are the habits that our readers have. So I think speed, the idea of providing a depth for people on issues that they're interested in, a transparency that I think did not exist before, to get away from this sort of voice of God narrative tone from the media -- we know better than you, and we're going to tell you what you need to know, how you need to know it and when you need to do it -- that's over.

And you will not be successful unless you recognize that fact.

IBARGUEN: So speed, depth, transparency. I write, you read, is dead. And my sense is that the user, formerly known as the reader, the owner of the information feels entitled and feels ownership of the data or of the content in a way that he or she didn't before. How do you engage that person in ways editors didn't have to when you and I first joined the newspaper industry?

NICHOLS: I mean, we all do it in different ways. I mean, one way that we feel like we've been successful is through blogs. And Ben Smith is our chief political blogger, and I think has shown a rare degree of success, particularly during the 2008 campaign, in creating a community of people who had a rather civil, interesting conversation about the news of the day. Ben was taking content from the people who read him. And there were a lot of people who experienced that campaign through the lens of that blog.

And I think that it's hard to do, as I'm sure we've all experienced. There's an incredibly and irritatingly loud noise level on the Web that is tough to fight through. But when it works, you really see that this revolution has this incredible promise if we can all figure out how to harness it on a regular basis.

IBARGUEN: Do you identify your commentators? Must they identify themselves?

RAVINDRAN: The commenters?

IBARGUEN: Yeah, or may they be anonymous?

RAVINDRAN: They're registered, but they can, you know, they have log-ins. That's actually a -- it's a great point you bring up. It's one of the things that when I first joined The Washington Post company, I was meeting with a journalist. I was like, what bugs you? And they're like, I get really depressed reading the comment threads, that it's such a food fight that it's just hard to get really excited about the work you do when you look at all these loudmouths, it's drowning out everything. I just don't look at it anymore. I thought, oh, my God, that's terrible. You're not looking at feedback from your readers.

So you know, one of the unique things about my role is that I can run experiments that I do quietly, and then I can inform. And we did a set of experiments where we looked at the value of someone's identity being involved. And we basically were like, well, if we can get people to actually use their real identity, maybe even a picture of themselves, will they behave better?

And so we quietly did this across -- we used a set of stories that were investigative on Slate, the kind that would -- it was on an animal rights issue, the kind that exactly would get a lot of, you know, no, you're wrong type, you know, conversation. And we actually measured --

SCHILLER: Stay polite.

RAVINDRAN: Yeah. Well, it's a family audience, right?

SCHILLER: Yeah, yeah. (Laughs.)

RAVINDRAN: So we basically measured it. And we saw, oh, my God, there's a big difference once you get people to actually put their personas out there. And I think people are less hesitant to throw big arrows at others if they know that.

So we've launched a new commenting platform on, which is part of The Washington Post Company family and something that I help out in addition to the post. And if you go there, you'll find a commenting platform that encourages using Facebook and Twitter and allows profile pictures to be loaded up.

And you'll see something that is truly amazing in our industry. You will see reporters conversing with readers in the comment threads back and forth, even in political stories, which is really hard to find. And it's the first step. That people behave better -- you know, the reason that people go ugly is usually when they feel like they're not being heard. And if you can just honor their readership in different ways, you can open up a whole new world.

IBARGUEN: Not being heard, and there are no consequences, because nobody knows it was you.


SCHILLER: We've done much the same thing. We require people to use their real names, and it does keep the level of discourse -- it doesn't completely stop, you know, abuse, but it keeps a level of discourse at a certain level. And we also interact. We have our reporters in the mix in the comment thread.

But you know, this actually is one of the most exciting new trends that I think we are actually really in the very, you know, the top of the first inning on. People talk about crowd sourcing. And there's been thrilling examples, well-discussed examples of crowd sourcing, from the protests in Iran to what happened in Haiti, you know, which is different, that sort of citizen journalism.

But I think also there's another trend that we really haven't tapped into yet, that we're just beginning to learn about at NPR, which is, tapping into the incredible knowledge base of our users. I mean, there is no question that no matter what story, no matter how expert our reporters are, there are people in the audience who know more about that subject than the reporter.

And you know, my favorite example recently was when we, on our news blog, we blogged, we just gave an update on what happened, this was about eight, 10 months ago, about the balloon boy story when the kid was, you know -- everybody knows the balloon boy story, right? And you know --

IBARGUEN: Well, not what the kid, what the kid didn't.

SCHILLER: Yes, yes. Well, exactly. And you know, it turned out to be a ridiculous made-for-television stunt, but it was wall-to-wall on cable, and so, you know, we dutifully reported, going, hey, you know, in case you're not watching cable TV, there's this national phenomenon on going on, which is, you know, your neighbors are going to be talking about, everybody's watching this balloon boy thing, and here are the details, and we don't know what's going to happen.

And what unfolded on our Web site is not the usual degeneration of, you know, you suck, no, you suck -- (laughter) -- I'm sorry, but that's usually what it degenerates to.

RAVINDRAN: That's still polite. (Laughs.)

SCHILLER: That's still polite, yeah, yeah. But what happened is, somehow we ended up with a string of comments from I don't know who these people are. They used their real names, but they must have been engineers. And collaboratively in our comment string, they calculated the thickness of the mylar, the weight of the helium, the weight of the balloon, the lift, the altitude at that particular location.

And through this sort of collaborative checking of data in the comments string, they figured out that that kid could not, that balloon could not have held the weight of the kid before the balloon even landed. And I guess in the equivalent of the nerdy engineers' version of "you suck," one of them -- (laughter) -- flamed the other one by saying, show your math, which was my favorite part. (Laughter.)

But you know, it is kind of a silly story, but it gives you a little inkling into the power of engaging the audience's expertise on certain subjects.

IBARGUEN: Do you have -- do you find that kind of engagement on foreign stories? You probably inform more Americans about foreign news, I would imagine, than anybody else.

SCHILLER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we do get that level of engagement, and we do cover, through our 17 bureaus and our multiple stringers, a variety of international stories. And yes, those comment strings are very, very robust. And that's why it's critical -- I completely agree with Vijay -- to have the reporters in the mix so it doesn't feel like this is some, you know, comment string that sort of, you know, exists in a vacuum, but that somebody's home. You know, that's the thing, that there's the voice, the voice of NPR. I don't mean the voice of authority, like the voice of God coming down, but the reporter is actually engaging, going, you know what, have you thought about it this way? That kind of thing. So absolutely.

IBARGUEN: What's the level of interest of your readers, Bill, in foreign affairs?

NICHOLS: I think it's probably surprisingly high. And we also have -- there's probably about 10 percent of the site's traffic that now comes from overseas. So it's not --

IBARGUEN: Ten percent?

NICHOLS: Yeah, give or take. So we have not exactly an answer to your question, but I think we have an enormous interest in the U.S. political system coming from overseas.

You know, we're increasingly branching out into doing more pure policy, and I think that's one of the directions that we're going to. And as I said earlier, I don't think there's any question that foreign affairs is one of those niche areas that people are going, someone's going to crack the code to figure out how to do that and do it profitably, which is something we haven't talked about, but is sort of the --

IBARGUEN: Do you consider foreign affairs news profitable?

RAVINDRAN: I think it has a lot of potential. I mean, I think it's hard to know -- I mean, in the online context, there's very few examples of completely pure online efforts and pure online -- (inaudible). We have one in Slate, but our others have print publications, the content freight is not fully paid for. And so it is very -- you know, we get -- we have -- on the low end of our property is 10 percent of readership outside. On a site like Foreign Policy that we own, it's almost one-third of ex-pats. And so it's there. Of course, it's very important. And you know, with personalities like David Ignatius and Rajiv Chandrasekaran doing content, we get a lot of readership.

So it's important. We haven't been as quick as we can be in showcasing all the work that goes into running these bureaus and having reporters, you know, across the world. And I think it's something that we talk about a lot. Like, how can we develop a sense of appreciation for how important it is, how hard it is to do, the expenses we're going through to make this happen so it's possible? And it's an area of big challenge, I think, for us.

IBARGUEN: It's an area of huge challenge, I think, for journalism across the country. And if it's a challenge for somebody in the capital, you can imagine what it would be in other places.

We're going to open up the discussion for your questions and comments. And there will be microphones. If you'll pleased bring the microphone up here and we can start. Oh, there you go.

One other comment, though, on foreign coverage. In the capital in Washington or in New York, you continue to have, whether it's at the Post or you folks or NPR, New York Times, Wall Street Journal continue to have a focus on foreign affairs. I believe in the rest of the country, where our foundation happens to do most of its work, I see less and less and less, with the exception of an NPR "All Things Considered" show in the morning, which will carry a portion of foreign affairs, there's very little in the newspapers that is either genuinely local, because school boards get even less coverage than foreign policy, genuinely local or explanatory in terms of contextual international coverage.

Does that concern you? What do we -- how do you see that evolving?

SCHILLER: It's huge. I think it's the single biggest concern that I have in terms of media. Journalism in this country is what's happening at a local level. And you know, NPR is a membership organization. In terms of the journalism we do, it's national and international. But through our membership network of local stations, they're all completely independent, but we are strongly encouraging and trying to work out both projects and incentives whereby our local stations can find ways to increase their local journalism, but also just as importantly to collaborate and partner with this entire network -- I mean, they're all independent -- of new not-for-profit online news organizations that are springing up all over the country.

I mean, all of these journalists that have been laid off from newspapers, rather than going into other industries, are giving back. And there is -- I think one of the most exciting things that's happening in journalism today that is a new phenomenon is just this groundswell, whether it's, you know, Voice of San Diego or Texas Tribune in Austin or The Beacon in St. Louis or Mid-Post or in New Haven and Chicago. There's a new on in New York. I mean, in small towns and large cities, these new online not-for-profits, to me, represents a huge, wonderful, thrilling trend that makes me optimistic about the future of journalism.

And the trick here as, you know, David Carr, in The New York Times wrote about this quite compellingly, he says, is -- he calls it the tyranny of small numbers. Which is, individually, they will have trouble surviving because of their small audiences, which is why we've got to find -- I feel completely motivated to find a way to partner and collaborate the local public radio station, other organizations together, who share a public mission to serve the information needs of communities, to find a way to come together to share that content and grow the audience.

IBARGUEN: Do you partner with people like that, with nonprofits like Texas Tribune or St. Louis Beacon?

RAVINDRAN: You know, I'm not aware of -- I know we've done stuff with ProPublica in the past. So it's not something -- I mean, we like partnering with folks to get better content. And so I think that part is great.

I think the other thing that Vivian touches on that's important to understand, because I do spend a lot of time thinking about the business side of problems with online media right now, is that everything being done right now is so scale oriented to make a business. And so when you're a lone ranger out there trying to do quality work, you can get a readership, but even if you're getting, say, 1 million, you know, page views a month, 250,000 unique visitors -- which would be great; I think people who run their own blogs would be, like, well, that's fantastic -- that's not going to pay your rent unless you're where I'm from in, you know, Oklahoma. Maybe it will pay it for there, but not in any other city.

And so there's this other problem. This why I think what Vivian is saying is really true, is that there's still a need for a coalescing business strategy to help. And they can still be tax exempt as far as nonprofit versus not. But the problem is, you still need to figure out a way to fund all of this. And there are just huge challenges in front of us.

IBARGUEN: Yeah. But there are -- interesting -- the Voice of San Diego, I know, is selling local news at five-minute segments to the NBC affiliate in San Diego. So everything old is new again.

Yes, sir. Let's start with you.

QUESTIONER: Bill Courtney, a retired diplomat. In the Cold War, government platforms played an outsiders role of Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, BBC, Deutsche Welle, in informing people in denied areas. For example, most Soviets learned of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov through their radios.

With the Internet today, in addition to the government platforms, is the private sector or are private sector media outlets playing a discernibly important role for people in denied areas of the world?

IBARGUEN: How do you feel about that? I guess you would be the one who would most likely be there.

RAVINDRAN: You know, I think our reach has been impacted by everything going on. So I mean, it's hard to say. I'm not tuned in well enough into the impact of the newsroom to really say fairly, I mean, but the reality of the situation is that we're smaller than we were two years ago. And so I think with it come all the implications from size.

IBARGUEN: What's the international reach of NPR?

SCHILLER: Well, we're available -- well, we're available on the Web anywhere in the world, obviously, and we also are redistributed and syndicated throughout the world, you know, on Armed Forces Radio and also just through private distribution arrangements across the country.

But you know, I think that -- forgive me if this sounds overly simplistic, but I think that, you know, the notion that you need a Voice of America or some of these other organizations to reach people is a bit of an anachronism now in the age of the Internet. And we've seen this demonstrated again and again.

I mean, in the age of Twitter, I mean, information is so readily available on the Web, granted, for those who have access, although, you know, mobile devices are pretty well distributed throughout the developing world, that I don't know that it's the same. That motivation that we must become a broadcast provider to provide information to people who are, you know, within a censored area is quite the same as it used to be.

IBARGUEN: But it is interesting that in the United Kingdom, for example, the British government has public data principles that they presumably have endorsed. The Gordon Brown government did. The new government, I gather, will endorse the same set of principles about government data being readily available and usable, machine readable and so forth, as a matter of course. And that's something that certainly wasn't available before.

NICHOLS: I mean, I think it's also the case -- and I just want to say that I agree totally with what Vivian was saying about this explosion of small sites around this country. That's happening internationally as well. It's not as fast, but we've become a regular stop for journalists, either whether it's through State Department or other fellowships.

And I just spent 90 minutes with an Albanian journalist yesterday. The same wheels are turning to try to figure out, how can we make this work?


QUESTIONER: Trudy Rubin. I write a foreign affairs column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. And it still lives. (Laughs.)

I would love it if you could all think outloud a little bit more about the financing of foreign coverage, especially about how there might be I don't know what kind of financing that would sustain permanent correspondents that could cover things systematically as opposed to, say, stringers who work for Global Post, which is a wonderful experiment, but doesn't yet have the financing to allow them to work full time.

And people who parachute in and out don't have the historic memory or the wherewithal to cover things in-depth. So where is the market? Or where is the financing that is going to serve that? And where is the market that's going to demand it?

IBARGUEN: Bill, you were very optimistic a few minutes ago about how this was going to be solved. Trudy is now giving you an opportunity to be in her column tomorrow. (Laughter.)

NICHOLS: Thanks, Trudy.

QUESTIONER: Can't wait to hear this. (Laughs.)

NICHOLS: I'm optimistic in principle, and less able to provide specifics. In terms of a reader market, I just believe it exists, because I think for all the reasons that we were just discussing, people have an intense, a passionate interest in foreign affairs. It's difficult to find the material, the reporting, the depth that they want.

Making that profitable, making that sustainable I think is much more difficult. As Vijay was saying, there really aren't examples of freestanding Web sites that have made a go of it. We have a newspaper that a lot of people don't know exists, but has been hugely helpful, both journalistically and from a revenue sense.

There's all sorts of other examples where there's some other revenue stream. And I think foreign affairs is unique in that the capital outlays that it's going to require, as you reference in your question, to make it work. And Global Post has had problems for exactly the reasons that you point out -- there's a huge story, and they're trying to get someone, oh, I'm working for my first or second clients rather than my third.

But my belief is, and I think we're somewhat a reflection of this, that it's a little bit, if you build it they will come. I mean, I think the fact that there is a readership I believe absolutely out there, is going to lead to continued innovation, and someone is going to crack the code.

IBARGUEN: Yes, go ahead.

RAVINDRAN: If I could just jump in. I mean, I think there's two -- in the spirit of thinking outloud, I think there's two models. I think one is Vivian's organization is a great model for one where I think you might see just really interested parties help fund things.

But I think the other is that the intersection of consumer advertiser and content and the value. You know, right now online, it's all advertiser for our three properties, and the reader is spending their time, which is valuable, but not a whole lot else. And for these areas of deep interest, like, when you think of, you know, water irrigation stories by Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Afghanistan, well, who would be interested in that? And how much is it worth to them?

You know, there's going to be cases where you're going to find smaller audiences, you're going to do a better job of creating that content that has depth in all the things that you're leaving on the cutting room floor for a mass audience, and you're going to find it.

There's all sorts of experimentation going on around that now. And I think if you get the presentation right where you get that type of depth, there's an opportunity to change the dynamics.

IBARGUEN: And I think we really are at a point of experimentation. I don't think anybody's got a final solution.

I want to take these two questions here, then I'd like to engage the back of the room if we have questions.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School. I'm responding as a reader.

And one of the things I like about print media is that when I open it up, there are all sorts of stories there I would never think to go look for. And they turn out to be really interesting and exciting. And the problems we face today, I happen to believe that everything is connected to everything else. And if you only read in a narrow stream, you miss a great deal of what's going on. And I haven't figured out how to manage that online

IBARGUEN: What, you mean you don't have an iPad yet? (Laughter.) Which mimmicks the newspaper, I think, really rather nicely. But tell me how you surf the Internet. Don't you go from one story to another and end up reading things that you never imagined you'd read?

(Off mike commentary.)

QUESTIONER: I end up on something, and I go down whatever it is they're offering, but I mean, I like reading some of these really crazy things about what's going on in science. I'm a systems thinker, so I want to understand how all these pieces kind of come together, and I find that hard to do. Maybe that's just my limitation. Maybe young people know how to do this. I just haven't figured it out.

RAVINDRAN: Well, I mean, I think serendipity is something that is not well done on the Internet. You know, we've done the un-bundling thing, but we haven't figured out how to recommend other songs, so to speak, if you try to parallel it to the music industry.

You know, there's two great opportunities. I think we just talked about how, you know, I think if people can figure out how to take all the content that's being produced and tie it together better. There's opportunities to do it way better than print as far as time together, you know, breaking news, oil spill story to Joel Achenbach's explanatory journalism on why blowout preventers have problems. You know, and you can bring those together actually better online, but you have to have the underlying platform to know that these pieces of content, one flowing from the Style Section and the other other from the Politics Section actually have a common thread between it, and we need to bring those together and --

IBARGUEN: But it doesn't need to be all from The Washington Post.

RAVINDRAN: No. And it can be -- absolutely. Absolutely. And actually comporting with the style that we're not trying to do everything for and about Washington, you absolutely have to move toward more aggregation and picking the best things out of the Web.

IBARGUEN: There's a technology I saw actually at a conference here at the Newseum a couple of months ago called Apture that allows you to graze over a word that will pop up windows that will give you video, that will give you interviews, that will give you additional text, additional information, all without leaving the original publisher, which is one of the reasons I think it will actually succeed. But it allows you to go into depth in a way that you might like.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTIONER: Barbara Slavin, independent journalist, one of many, many.

I wanted to ask about the impact of Facebook and Twitter. To what extent are you getting traffic to your site directly? And to what extent are you getting traffic through Facebook and Twitter?

I have found -- I write a lot about Iran. And I have found that Facebook has been invaluable over the past year. I just go there, and every single story from any source in the world -- Iranian, American, French, German -- if it's about Iran, it's there, because my Facebook friends will post it. Thanks.

RAVINDRAN: I mean, if you looked at, you know, traffic, basically unique visitors coming to online properties a year ago or, say, two years ago, it was probably 75 percent people typing in www, property name. And 25 percent coming in through e-mail and search and other things.

And what you've seen and the trend that will continue is that people that type in your property name actually go to your front door is just continuing going down. It's been pushed down where, on many sites now, including most of ours, it's like about 50 percent of the traffic, and it's going to be going down further. And that's just a trend that's just going to keep happening.

Meanwhile, search engines are, you know, a huge part of how people find news. And Facebook and Twitter are going up and up. And they're significant now, and they have become more significant. We spent a lot of time as one of the early adopters of the Facebook "like" button which was launched two months ago, three months ago. And we've replaced our "most read" feature on our front page with being powered instead off of Facebook. And it's had a meaningful impact on traffic.

Eventually, it's going to be equivalent to search engines, is my prediction, in that it's going to be as valuable as all the effort people are putting into search and optimization today and how they lay out pages and think about that.

IBARGUEN: Okay. Bill.

NICHOLS: I completely agree. I mean, it's an area of huge importance and effort for us. It also, as is often the case with any technological advance, there's a trade-off. And so you're now faced with all of us -- us, less so -- but have rather large staffs. And so you also have to go through a teaching process of, this is public space. (Laughter.) And as you guys have lived through recently -- I mean, I have like a near-death experience probably once a week. (Laughter.) Oh, please, you know.

But at the same time, it doesn't really work if there's not some humanizing, personalizing information in your tweet or on Facebook. So I completely agree with the traffic importance, but journalistically, ethically, it's a brave new world where we're all sort of groping along, trying to figure out how we make it an extension of the publication, but yet don't take away personal freedoms from the people who are making that their own personal voice.

SCHILLER: I just want to say that the thing that's so exciting to me about social media, even more so than just plain search, is, it really serves three purposes, not just one. Search serves a purpose of, you know, surfacing your content so that people click on it and read it. So traffic. So it certainly does that.

But it also is a distribution mechanism. You know, re-tweeting is just this phenomenal, exponential effect that is tremendous.

And it's go value for news-gathering. I mean, the news-gathering aspect, our reporters use that all the time. So it's traffic, distribution and reporting.

And again, you know, we are just scratching the surface of the power of social media, Twitter and Facebook.

IBARGUEN: How do you use Twitter, personally?

SCHILLER: Our reporters -- me personally? I'm not a big --

IBARGUEN: On the record now, tell the truth.

SCHILLER: No, I know. I'm not big. I signed up for Twitter. I don't use it. I'm big on Facebook. I'm not that big on Twitter. I follow a bunch of people.

IBARGUEN: How about you, Vijay?

RAVINDRAN: I love using Twitter. And actually to your question, madame, that --

QUESTIONER: You can call me Mitzi.

RAVINDRAN: Mitzi, okay. (Laughter.) The serendipity of Twitter is great. The replacement of the modern-day newspaper front page, to me, is using my Twitter account. And I'm not an active tweeter in that I don't outbound tweet all the time. But I passively use it to basically -- it's one of my go-to things now in how I consume news.

IBARGUEN: Do you use it, Bill?

NICHOLS: I use it. I'm not much of a tweeter, either, but I now have our social media coordinator coming to my office door, like, regularly and shooting daggers at me.

IBARGUEN: With printouts, I hope? (Laughter.)

(Cross talk.)

Do any of you use Global Voices, which has obviously global international coverage of people of their own stories.

SCHILLER: Personally, no.

IBARGUEN: Let's go to the back, way in the back of the room, the very back. And then we'll come --

QUESTIONER: Hendrick Smith, PBS. The title is "Sustaining Journalism in the Digital Age." If we think back to some of the most important stories that have broken in recent years -- the exposure of the Catholic Church in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post series on Walter Reed Hospital, the secret CIA prisons abroad, the NSA wiretapping -- those were all achieved by major organizations that could devote months of high-talent reporters and editors. How is that going to be sustained in the world you all are describing?


SCHILLER: Speaking for my own organization, we just launched for the first time ever -- and maybe shame on us for not having it prior -- but we just launched an investigative unit. We've done sort of ad hoc investigative reporting over the years. But we have now launched a dedicated investigative unit with a really wonderful editor, and we have been working in collaboration with other organizations. This is a big change, I think, from, you the, the days of yore, in collaboration with ProPublica, with Center for Investigative Journalism, Center for Public Integrity, with others, and have been doing -- forgive me for bragging, but I think groundbreaking reporting on everything from veterans returning with traumatic brain injury, to campus sexual assault, to information about the number of gallons of oil that are spilling from the well, to following the story of what's happening in the minds of West Virginia.

IBARGUEN: But Viv, I think I the question is, you know, so you've got that at NPR, and that's a model, that's not the usual, and that's not the norm. And so how in the rest of journalism do you say -- it's really another version of the foreign affairs coverage. How do you sustain the level of professional journalism that we've come to rely on? Even if it's not about a national story, if it's about a local superintendent in schools who pays money to his cousin to buy property secretly for him. That's a real story

SCHILLER: Through partnership, through collaboration and through multiple revenue streams, through a combination of philanthropic support, from reader support, from advertiser, sponsor, underwriter support. I mean, this is the, you know, this is the patchwork of the future. You know, this is Clay Shirky's nothing will work, but everything might.

And I'm actually encouraged, maybe I'm a Pollyanna. But I'm actually encouraged by the incredible focus and concern about investigative journalism, particularly at the local level, by a lot of these new start-up news organizations.

IBARGUEN: You want to say something else?

RAVINDRAN: Yeah, I would just add -- I mean, I think there's a -- taking Dana Priest's story on Walter Reed as an example, to give you an idea of what the potential is, you know, for a year after, you know, she ran that story, if not longer, you know, she was getting e-mails from veterans who had, you know, issues they were going through.

And you know, the opportunity lost and the opportunity that in the future organizations need to do a better job of is that there was a community out there screaming for a place to actually coalesce. And with it, a lot of opportunity to engage new readers and develop a new relationship that The Washington Post could have actually done. And we didn't do it in that case.

And I think in the future, this notion of building communities that are sustaining and then building your business model around that, it has to be an out -- in my mind, a lot of, whether it's foreign affairs or investigative journalism, I think that's going to be something that's -- (inaudible) -- very conscientious with it.

IBARGUEN: Let's go to --

NICHOLS: And if I could just jump in on that. I think the scenario that Vivian laid out really is -- I'm sorry.

QUESTIONER: Excuse me. Those are all very nice words, and I thought it was very interesting that the NPR answer was, it was collaboration with other organizations outside the news business that are contributing, in effect, funds as well as talent and knowledge. But the evidence nationwide is that news organizations are shrinking. There are fewer investigative reporters around.

CNN has closed its science unit. How does it go ahead and do investigation in the field of science? You know, I mean, this is a serious question that can't just be tossed away.

IBARGUEN: You're asking a question, of course, that nobody on the panel, probably nobody in the room is going to be able to answer, because nobody has figured out what the business model is that is going to pay for all of this.

I think we're at a point of experimentation. Vivian mentioned half a dozen news organizations that have cropped up, that I don't think any of the ones you mentioned are more than three-years old.


IBARGUEN: I don't know whether they're going to be able to sustain themselves. They are nonprofit models. They are supported, in the case of Texas Tribune, it's interesting. ProPublica is one kind of a model. Texas Tribune is more regional focused. Obviously, it's Texas politics. It has a model that is not unlike the way newspapers started. It has a local, fairly wealthy individual who brings in friends, who says, I know how to run business, I really care about this community, I'm going to put up a bunch of my money, I'm going to get other people to do it, I'm going to set it up as a mission purpose, foundation, supported operation. And he has hired the best editor he could, Evan Smith, from Texas Monthly. Hired a business manager. And they're out generating revenue.

That might be a way of funding this. But I don't think any of us yet have seen the silver bullet.

Let's go to the middle of the room. You were waving your microphone. Go ahead, there, that one.

QUESTIONER: Elizabeth Becker, retired, New York Times, and former senior foreign editor, National Public Radio.

One question, I wondered if you've asked about continuing foreign correspondent. And it's something -- (inaudible) -- and I discussed years ago. Have you considered foreigner correspondent? That is, hiring a Frenchman to cover France, a Spanish woman to cover Spain. It's like crossing that line, but you would get foreign news, but it would not be an American that you would send overseas. And you could imagine the money you would save.

IBARGUEN: So is this like a BBC model or like a Global Voices model?

QUESTIONER: BBC is British going overseas. You would have the local person in Belfast, you'd have Irish.

(Off mike commentary.)

IBARGUEN: Or like Richard is saying, Bloomberg and Thompson-Reuters. Have you considered that?

SCHILLER: I mean, I'm happy to take a crack at that. We do, of course, use, work very extensively with foreign nationals in all of our foreign locations in terms of our reporting. We cannot, you know, they are the unsung heroes, particularly in war areas, of foreign coverage. There is no question.

But I think that my personal point of view is that for an American audience, the local reporters on the ground in, you know, what are to us foreign territories -- and having worked at CNN for many years and being slapped on the wrist for using the word "foreign" by Ted Turner, still I have trouble speaking that word as opposed to "international."

But I think that the partnership between the local reporting from the local journalist, together with the point of view of a reporter who can make it as relevant as possible to American listeners -- which, at least speaking for NPR, is the bulk of the listenership -- is critical to be able to see it through the eyes of an American. Not to distort it, but to be able to make it as relevant as possible and connect the dots between this story and what it means for listeners at home.

IBARGUEN: One of the hallmarks of a CFR panel is that we actually end when we said we would. So we're getting close to the end. Let's take two more questions. The lady in the middle, and then this gentleman over here, who has been raising his hand from the very beginning. So this fellow right here, but the lady in the back, who is raising her hand right now, with the white sweater on. There you go.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Elise Labott with CNN. I was wondering what you think of the fact that or how we deal with them as major news organizations where, you know, now that the Internet and all these Twitter and Facebook are available to everyone, that agencies, U.S. government agencies, international organizations are kind of bypassing the media and going directly to the public?

And I know in a lot of ways that could be good, because it opens them up to the public, but it's almost kind of they want to go unfiltered or unanalyzed. And I was just wondering if you could offer some thoughts on that, if you think that's a dangerous thing, if you think that's a good thing, or if that's going to put us out of business?

IBARGUEN: I think that's a fantastic question, especially at a time when we have an administration that figured out how to go directly to the crowd.

QUESTIONER: I had to join Twitter, because the State Department spokesman at the time figured out that he could go directly to the American public and didn't have to talk to the media.

IBARGUEN: There you go. So are you really obsolete, is that the deal?


RAVINDRAN: We believe there's still a market for gathering facts -- (laughter) -- and we're banking on that. But no, there's definitely -- I mean, those outlets are really important. And basically, our reporters are sometimes having to play catchup to what's being broadcast out to 10 million people before they even get it.

But it only, I think, makes more important the value of cultivating sources and getting facts that are not being out there, because it makes you stand out that much more.

IBARGUEN: Bill, at the speed with which you work, how do you deal with that?

NICHOLS: I mean, I think there were dire predictions that this administration was going to change the way things were done. I guess they have, some, but I don't think it's been a complete sea change. And I think the response to it is something that I think goes across all the problems that we face, and that's, we have to give people something that they can't get anywhere else. We have to give them journalism that they can't get from Robert Gibbs tweeting. We have to give them journalism they can't get on any other site.

So I mean, I think it's hard to be reaping the benefits of this revolution as a news organization and be resentful of people having more information. I mean, I understand your question, totally, but I think there's still room for all of us to coexist.

RAVINDRAN: If I could share an anecdote actually that I think punctuates this, that I just remembered from when I first started. So I was meeting with our research team in the newsroom and asking them, well, you know, a lot of what you do now, now that is out, you know, that's probably, your job must be a lot easier now, and just literal just laughing in my face for about five minutes about just how off the numbers are. I mean, it's just -- and I mean, you still have to verify all the stuff going out there.

IBARGUEN: Yeah, last question. Over here -- right behind you.

QUESTIONER: Alan Raul, Sidley Austin. I wanted to examine the axiom of universal and international access or accessibility of your Web sites and your information. I think that, Vivian, you mentioned that you're available everywhere, of course. But as a practical matter, do your Web sites, each of which, I think, would be of interest around the world, do you make any actual active efforts to attract usership or readership from around the world, and perhaps even to stimulate participation in your comment boxes, your blogs and so on, that might be actually of interest to your American users?

And lastly, have you encountered any active repression or efforts to deny access to your information by governments around the world, such as China has been in the news in denying access to Google and others? Has that been a factor for each of you?

IBARGUEN: A wonderful question to end on.

SCHILLER: Well, we don't. You know, we don't actively -- we don't market, maybe that's the wrong word to use, but we don't really market to foreign audiences right now. It's sort of -- it's on the horizon of something to examine for a later date. So we haven't really made a lot of effort to try to engage with foreign users, although we know we get them.

You know, the exception that we -- but we've dabbled a little bit. I mean, the most recent example, and I think that we will build upon this in our planning over the next couple of years, is, when we did some investigative reporting about the Calderon government and their favoring some of the drug cartels or looking the other way around some of the drug cartels over others, we did make a specific effort as a test to try to engage Spanish-speaking, both American and Mexican users in the comment string. And it was very successful.

So we, you know, that's sort of a canary in the coal mine for us of the kinds of things that we would like to do on our Web site. We are predominantly a global news organization for an American audience. And our foreign audience is somewhat accidental, but we're looking at changing that.

IBARGUEN: Bill, your 10 percent audience, how do you cater to them?

NICHOLS: I mean, we're obviously different. And our appeal more is, here's a window for you into Washington, rather than the reverse. And I had an interesting experience. I was in Germany about six weeks ago on a fellowship program, and we met with Merkel's national security adviser. I guess you don't call them that in Germany, but you catch my drift.

And I went up after the meeting to offer him my card, and he instead took out his iPhone and showed me the Politico app on his iPhone, which I thought, well, that's cool, we're doing something right. (Laughter.) But that's more of what we're trying to do. Like Vivian, it's not something that we've spent a huge amount of marketing resources on, but we do feel like that's an audience that we can grow, because obviously there is tremendous interest.


RAVINDRAN: Two things. I mean, I think there is a lot of opportunity. We do this with Slate and with Newsweek which, you know, we're in the process of existing Washington Post, but where we franchise essentially international presences out there, and so Slate has a French presence. Newsweek International is offered in many languages, translated through relationships where essentially companies in those countries essentially get a license to the content of the translations.

We've been -- within the technical research team that I oversee at corporate, we're really interested in, as an example of a site, not anything that I'm ready to talk about just yet here, but if you look at a site, there's a site called Meedan, which actually does a side-by-side Arabic to English translation and comment thread.

IBARGUEN: What is it? How do you spell it?

RAVINDRAN: It's called Meedan -- M-E-E-D-A-N. And I encourage everyone to take a look at it, given you guys' interest. It's very interesting. And basically, you know, articles are posted there and then translated to both Arabic and English, and then there is comment threads that both native Arabic speakers and English speakers can participate in. And the crowd essentially participates in translating those back and forth. So for the first time, you can actually have a meaningful discussion with someone who doesn't know English, on an important topic like Gaza.

And it's really neat. There's a lot of potential there. And I think there's opportunity looking forward that has not been tapped yet.

IBARGUEN: I'm sorry and very happy to report that there are a dozen hands that we weren't able to call on. Happy because that shows such a tremendous interest in the topic. Our panelists will be here for a little bit, so please, if you have other questions or comments, come on up, and let's talk some more.

Thank you very much. There's a reception outside. Thank you to our panelists. Join us for the cocktails. (Applause.)







More on This Topic


Sustaining Journalism in the Digital Age

Speakers: Bill Nichols, Vijay Ravindran, and Vivian Schiller
Introductory Speaker: Richard N. Haass
Presider: Alberto Ibargüen

Experts discuss how to harness new media technologies to distribute news.

This event was part of the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellowship 60th...