Traditional Media vs. New Media Coverage of Legislature

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Sarah Janacek

This panel focused on evolving legislative news coverage. Mike Mulcahey, political editor for Minnesota Public Radio, discussed how the model for how people get their news has changed. Few people still sit down with their subscribed-to hard copy of the newspaper and a cup of coffee at the kitchen table to digest the news at the beginning of the day.  Now people get news all day long, all night long, and they expect it to be free. It is particularly unsettling for traditional journalists to realize that in this marketplace, their work has no monetary value. Newspapers have thus far failed to monetize their offerings under the new model – online readership numbers can jump, but that doesn´t necessarily translate to profit for the papers. On the other hand, the rise of the internet has increased the value of news reporting.  Stories are available online after they have been broadcast, which allows people to go back and find stuff they might have missed. As a nonprofit, MPR has been able to escape the need to create shareholder wealth, instead they rely on listeners, corporations, foundations, and to a decreasing extent on taxpayers through government support for their funding. Mike thinks that more sources and more varieties of information provided by the wide range of resources is probably a good thing.

Pat Sweeney is the Communications Director for the Freshwater Society, and previously he was a political reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for many years. He mentioned that there used to be four daily papers in the metro, two morning and two evening from each the Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune, and their reporting was intensely competitive. The Pioneer Press also had an image of the capitol dome on their masthead, which is no longer there. Covering the capitol used to be the best thing. Pat also mentioned that the problem is that the papers have always had a flawed business model – they sell newspapers for less than the cost of production, and make their revenues from ads. The opposite is true in Europe, where you might pay a euro for a newspaper, but will find far fewer ads inside. He noted that it is actually Monster.com and CarSoup and Craigslist which are taking away what papers are trying to live on by providing an alternative to the paper´s employment, car sales and classified
sections. In terms of blogs, Pat saw two sides: the negative is that they may not be as proven as traditional sources, but on the other hand, blogs at times can be driving the coverage of stories by traditional news outlets because blogs may have less to fear, and less to lose.

Sarah Janecek is the publisher of Politics in Minnesota, which began as a snail-mail newsletter and has evolved into a weekly electronic report, an online morning news aggregation, and a political directory. PIM was the first in the country to add advertising with political information, and their continuing challenge has been how to monetize their work and flex their delivery as the model of news consumption has changed. She mentioned the necessity to consider what it´s like to live your whole life online, and how to appeal to people who eat, breathe, and sleep the internet – people under a certain age feel that if something isn´t available online, it doesn´t exist. Ultimately she believes that the creator of the content needs to be the seller of the content, and it is the fact that her offerings have been relationship-based that has allowed her to continue to flourish.

Jess Hopeman

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