The newspaper industry isn’t dead, but it is evolving to meet the demands of the digital age, a New York Times editor told a group of mostly young journalism students at LSU on Monday.
Internet-based Twitter, Facebook and many other information platforms have provided newspapers with new ways to reach readers and tell more engaging stories about the world, said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.
For an industry that has long-held traditional methods of passing along information to its readers, changes were slow in coming at a time when new demands required stories be told much more quickly.
“All of the traditional news organizations waited too long,” he said.
To emphasize how difficult change can be, Baquet told of the time when The New York Times first decided in the 1990s to print color photos.
“I was appalled,” Baquet said to laughter from the group of young reporters-to-be who were all working on their laptops or cellphones.
A native of New Orleans and former Times-Picayune reporter, Baquet was in Baton Rouge to speak during a two-day series of discussions about the 2015 Louisiana governor election. The program, which began Monday, is sponsored by the American Society of News Editors, McCormick Foundation and The Advocate.
Baquet took over the helm of The New York Times last year and had previously worked as the managing editor and executive editor of the Los Angeles Times. Part of the emphasis has been using the technology that is available to deliver the news in ways that can better engage readers.
The technology may be newer, but it really is just a different tool that benefits news organizations that embrace change, he said.
Baquet said newspapers used to be arrogant, didn’t do a good job of reader engagement and too often wrote stories for themselves and not for the benefit of their readers. The digital age has changed that and news organizations are the better for it, he said.
As an example, Baquet told a story detailing how in 1995 he, as an editor, flew to Oklahoma City with 20 other reporters and editors to cover the bombing of the federal building.
“It was a 1990s-era print newspaper at its greatest,” he said. “But the process was clumsy as I look back on it.”
Reporters used phone books to find families and the workday was over by the 9 p.m. deadline, he said.
With the Paris terrorist attacks of Nov. 13, the coverage included tweets from witnesses, videos, Facebook posts, images and much more to engage readers in its coverage.
The newspaper also was able to do much longer stories as well on Islamic State, give a timeline of events and present an interactive map to let readers compare Syria of today with the country’s history, he said. It was 24-hour coverage and reached millions of people in the United States and Europe, something that would have been impossible 20 years ago.
“Don’t let anyone tell you journalism is dead. Not even close,” Baquet said. “This is a golden age and I’m excited to witness it.”
New ways are evolving to tell news stories. Months ago, Baquet said, a couple of editors decided to try using virtual reality to tell the story of refugee children. The editors didn’t get much excitement in the newsroom until they showed the final product and everyone was blown away, he said. It was a new way to tell the story and readers loved it.
“To achieve our mission, we have to be read,” he said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.