Interview: Steve Outing

Steve Outing is a newspaper veteran who became interested in online news before it was hot.

Steve Outing is a newspaper veteran who became interested in online news before it was hot.

He's covered online journalism for Editor & Publisher for 10 years, and today writes its "Stop The Presses" column. He also serves as a senior editor for the Poynter Institute, which promotes excellence in journalism.

PRWeek: How did you get into journalism?
Steve Outing:
I go way back. I had a traditional print career from the time I got out of college to about 1993. I worked at newspapers, and then it was one of those times that the newspaper industry was cutting back, and I was working at the San Francisco Chronicle, and they offered a bunch of buyouts because they were cutting back their staff by 15%. So I dived off into Internet stuff, and I've been doing all sorts of writing, research, consulting stuff over the last 12 years or so.

PRWeek: How have newspapers adapted to the online medium?
Outing: They've made a lot of progress, but not nearly enough. The newspaper industry must figure out how to shift some of the revenues that came from print to the online side to make up for the losses that are inevitable in the coming years.

PRWeek: What do they still need to do?
Outing:
Look at what's going on right now [in the newspaper industry]. I think that what's happening now was probably inevitable. We all sort of saw this coming, where more and more of the readership was going away from traditional media, especially newspapers, and more of that shifting to online and other digital forms. So what the newspaper industry obviously needs to do is figure out how to shift some of those revenues that came in from print over to the online digital side, to make up for the losses that are inevitable in the coming years.

PRWeek: How will that play out?
Outing: I don't think print editions will go away any time soon, but if we look ahead five years or so, it's very possible that people getting news in a digital form will probably be equal to or maybe slightly higher than the people who get print editions. It won't happen overnight, but we seem to be heading in that direction, especially with younger people.

PRWeek: Do you think people will develop a willingness to pay for online papers?
Outing: Willingness to pay is a whole other issue. It's difficult in this environment, when there are so many options. If you're a regional paper and, all of a sudden, you try to charge for stuff online, people can go elsewhere and get a lot of that content. It's more difficult to get people to pay, though if you have a niche industry publication, it's very possible that you can. Obviously, The Wall Street Journal has been able to do it. If you look at some industry trades, they're able to charge. But it's pretty hard for more generic news titles.

PRWeek: Will the shrinking newspaper economy spell slow death for expensive investigative journalism?
Outing:
I hope not...I'm definitely concerned that all these cutbacks are going to have an impact. I know in Philadelphia, the newspapers there...that about 100 people are walking out the door, because they have buyouts to cut back. That's got to have an impact on the ability of a paper like that to do their really important investigative stuff. Unless, as I laid out in [a recent] article, they can figure out how to cut some other things and make a management decision that 'this is what's important about what we do, and we're gonna save that and cut somewhere else.'

PRWeek: Can one argue that investigative reporting has an economic upside for papers?

Outing: I think so. If you look at a typical metro paper, a lot of the coverage and content is national and international. For a print edition that comes to your door, it's nice that everything is all packaged in one place and you have all your local, national, and international news.

Online, you can argue that, 'If I go to denverpost.com, why would I rely on that for national or international [news] when I can go to The New York Times, The Times of London, or some other source that's going to be much better?' So the argument can be made for newspapers like that to really focus more on local stories.

PRWeek: Do you think the various media scandals featured on sites like Romenesko are having a real effect on the newspaper industry?
Outing:
You could definitely argue that because of Romenesko and blogs in general, some of the stuff that in the past was just insider baseball that nobody outside of the news profession would care about, now it gets much larger play. It becomes a bigger deal.

PRWeek: What separates good and bad PR people?
Outing: I routinely deal with a lot of PR people, and my best interactions are with the ones who know what I care about and what I write about, which is pretty easy to do on the internet these days. E-mail is the best way to get to me. Occasionally phone calls work, but only if it's a PR person that I have a working relationship with.


Name: Steve Outing
Outlets: Editor & Publisher and The Poynter Institute
Titles: Columnist (E&P); Senior editor (Poynter)
Preferred contact method: steve@poynter.org
Website: editorandpublisher.com; poynter.org

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