Media giants on the future of news

USA TODAY's founder predicts newspapers are here to stay

Posted: Friday, July 21, 2000

Despite satellites transmitting news instantly and endlessly and the seeming dominance of the Internet, the future of newspapers looks bright, an industry leader said Thursday.

``Bill Gates doesn't know anything about news; he only knows how to invent software,'' said Allen H. Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY and The Freedom Forum.

He was one of three media leaders who, with Alaska's lieutenant governor, discussed ``Media at the Millennium'' in a luncheon program Thursday at the Westmark Baranof.

Newspapers are here to stay for three reasons, Neuharth said: First, intelligent publishers, owners and management have begun using the Internet for their own purposes -- the dissemination of information. Second, newspapers are the most affordable thing in town. ``There is nothing you can get for 50 cents that matches the bargain of the Juneau Empire.''

Third, he said, newspapers are still the most portable source of news. ``You can't take the Internet to the bathroom with you.''

The luncheon was sponsored by The Freedom Forum and Newseum's NewsCapade, a traveling exhibit. Other participants were Jack Marsh, director of NewsCapade; William ``Billy'' Morris, chairman and chief executive officer of Georgia-based Morris Communications Corp., which owns the Juneau Empire and 30 other daily newspapers as well as magazines and six Anchorage radio stations; and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer.

The Freedom Forum pours oil on the often roiled waters between the news media and the public, Marsh said. It acts to preserve the First Amendment, promote free speech around the world, and encourage diversity in America's newsrooms, he said.

The Constitution's First Amendment is ``not understood as well or cherished as much as it was in the past,'' Morris said. ``We need to talk about the blessing of free speech guaranteed to us by the First Amendment.''

``It's of great concern to us that people don't read as much as they used to, that they are not concerned with their government,'' he said. ``As a democracy, we must govern ourselves. We are in the most prosperous times the world has ever known, and great prosperity causes people not to focus on these things. We have a tremendous responsibility to pass on the heritage our forefathers passed on to us.''

Ulmer said it was a media responsibility to ``cover stories in such a way as to show why government is relevant to our lives.'' She despaired about how difficult it is to get the press to cover government, democracy and topics such as voter registration.

When Marsh asked her to rate the performance of the news media, Ulmer quoted her former boss, Gov. Jay Hammond, who told her: ```It is better not to get into fights with someone who can print newspapers every day and never run out of ink.' I have been treated fairly (by the media) as long as I can remember -- of course I don't have a very good memory,'' Ulmer said.

She softened her remarks by adding that relationships between politicians and the media are a two-way street. ``You have to work on it,'' she said. She often calls reporters after articles run, she said, to prep them for the next encounter.

The panel was recorded for Web cast; the entire session will be available next week at www.freedomforum.org., or through Hot Links at juneauempire.com.



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