When “Stories About Campaign Coverage: From BlackBerries and the Web to Images and Ideas” appeared in the Spring 2004 issue of Nieman Reports, its opening words belonged to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Executive Editor David M. Shribman. In excerpts from a book chapter he’d written entitled, “Only a Lunatic Would Do This Kind of Work,” Shribman explored some of the factors motivating someone to be a political reporter and helped us peer into how political reporting was being done, how it read, looked and sounded, and why any of this mattered to those receiving the information.
Fast-forward four years. Shribman holds the same job, but he now speaks about the swiftly changing demands of getting and distributing political news. In a piece the “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” broadcast a few days before the Pennsylvania primary entitled, “Pittsburgh Media Adapts to Shifting News Landscape,” Shribman focused his words squarely on his newspaper’s Web strategy, as he explained to viewers how and why political coverage must be delivered in all kinds of media — all at the same time.
Once again Shribman’s words, excerpted from his interview, lead us into a collection of stories that journalists wrote about new media overtaking the old in political reporting.
Shribman began by telling viewers what he’d told his newspaper’s political staff: “The Web is more important in this presidential campaign and the Pennsylvania primary than the newspaper. Think Web first, and then think newspaper, because you’re going to do something different for the newspaper. I’m not saying the newspaper’s not important, but first think Web, because if you don’t think Web first, it’s going to be too late to think Web.”
He went on to explain why his emphasis is where it is: “Every cultural, economic and demographic trend is against us. Kids don’t read the newspaper. The Internet is so beguiling and so free, and people don’t have time in busy, busy lives to read the newspaper. That doesn’t mean we don’t think we play a vital role. That doesn’t mean that we don’t think that we’re trying to adjust to their schedules and their rhythms. And we’re becoming more intertwined with their rhythms. We’re doing our job in different ways, but it’s the same job. It’s being the people’s representatives at meetings and on the streets. It’s setting the conversation of Pittsburgh.
“We are reaching more people than we ever did before. And if you got in this business to reach and touch people and to shape their conversations and to reflect that community, then we are succeeding now better than we ever did. Maybe it’s an artistic success and a financial disaster. I don’t know. I still want that newspaper, but I don’t want to be the last newspaper reader in America, and I don’t want this to be a newsroom that’s only producing a newspaper. You know, there are a lot of people who were really good blacksmiths the year the Model T came out. I don’t want us to be a bunch of blacksmiths.”