Steiger Downplays Media Fears

Former Managing Editor of the Wall Street Journal Paul E. Steiger spoke last night at the John F. Kennedy Forum at the Institute of Politics about the current recession in the newspaper business, contending that “we have not reached the bottom yet.”

Steiger began his talk with a promise not to deliver the “fashionable” speech that would reassure the audience that “the current crisis will pass” and that “all will be over soon.”

In an article published in a December issue of The Wall Street Journal, Steiger described the Web industry as a force that “shredded newspaper business models that had held sway for decades,” causing American newspapers to tighten their budgets. Even with economic pressure building on the newspaper industry’s shoulders, however, Steiger pointed out in his speech last night that the situation is not as bad as it could be.

Steiger suggested multiple “pathways” through which investigative journalism could be revived, including “specialization, subsidy, and creativity.”

Although Steiger acknowledged that some of his suggestions may be “simply wrong,” he emphasized that those in the newspaper business “need to experiment.”

Shorenstein Center Director Alex S. Jones, who introduced Steiger last night, said that the former managing editor is attempting to “keep the golden age [of newspaper journalism] alive” through his work as editor in chief and president of ProPublica, an independent non-profit that Jones described as resisting the current trend of newspapers to allow “investigative journalism to disappear.”

ProPublica offers free investigative material to newspapers and other media outlets across the country in addition to publishing its material online.

Steiger said that ProPublica’s goal is to “reach the people who can actually make a difference.”

By attempting to persuade newspapers to publish outsiders’ investigative reporting, Jones said that Steiger is taking steps toward breaking “the mold.”

The Shorenstein Center presented its annual Goldsmith Career Award for Excellence in Journalism to Steiger last night too.

In an interview, acting Director of the Shorenstein Center Thomas E. Patterson called Steiger an “extraordinary editor” and praised ProPublica’s attempts to “address the struggles newsrooms are having.”

Steiger will be leading a panel discussion at the Kennedy School tonight with the winners and seven finalists of the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting entitled “The Present and Future of Investigative Reporting.”