Journalism’s Regeneration

October 3, 2012 | Salute to Scholars, The University

Stephen Shepard

With steep revenue declines, layoffs, and bankruptcies, it might seem that journalism  can no longer sustain itself.  Not so, according to Stephen Shepard, the Founding Dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.

Though not sure  what the future holds, Shepard believes that journalism, while in crisis, will soon thrive again.

“There is more journalism being done today on more platforms, reaching more people than ever before,” says Shepard. “The problem is not journalism, per se, but rather the need for new business models to support quality journalism in the digital age,” he says.  Shepard’s book, Deadline and Disruption: My Turbulent Path from Print to Digital, chronicles his nearly 50 years in the news business.

Prior to becoming dean in 2004, the Bronx native and City College alumnus was editor-in-chief of Business Week for more than 20 years.  During that time, journalism began its transition into the digital age. In the book, Shepard points to a number of watershed moments that forever changed the economics of the news business. He explained how the Internet changed the role of advertising with the “great unbundling” of newspapers.  “You can go online now and [read a single] article without getting the entire publication. That erodes the brand of newspapers and magazines and helps lower advertising rates to the point that they do  not support journalism anymore,” says Shepard, whose book was named one of the “Top 10: Business Books” for the fall of 2012 by Publishers Weekly.  The book is being excerpted in the Columbia Journalism Review, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the City College Alumnus.

Since print advertising is likely to continue declining, Shepard advises publishers to beef up digital revenue by first “exploiting what the Web offers to target individual users with customized ads and promotions, just as Amazon.com does successfully. Second, they must reduce costs by phasing out their print editions. Finally, they must find an entirely different revenue stream, like getting users to pay for digital content,” says Shepard.

Journalism schools are enjoying a renewed purpose because of the changes in the field, according to Shepard. “For the first time, probably since the advent of broadcast TV news, there is something brand new to learn in J-school. You have to [learn] to be a multimedia reporter. You have to be able to use social media for reporting. It’s much harder to get hired if you don’t have these skills,” advises Shepard.

Even since the CUNY Graduate Journalism School doors opened to students in the fall of 2006, its curriculum has had to change to keep up with the rapid changes. “When we started this school there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no iPad, no apps. So we had to keep reinventing the school because journalism was changing so radically,” says Shepard.  “It’s certainly true that you can become a journalist without going to journalism school. But it’s less true today, than it used to be,” he adds. “We started the CUNY Journalism School at a very opportune moment.”