Several prominent members of the Michigan-based media discussed the future of the journalism industry and the media’s coverage of the American auto industry’s downfall yesterday at a forum co-sponsored by the National Press Club and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library.

Gil Klein, a former NPC president and the forum’s moderator, kicked off the evening’s discussion by asking everyone in attendance: “Where the heck is this news business going?”

Despite all of the problems facing media today, with declining advertising revenue and job cuts and downsizing throughout the industry, Klein said today is a time of tremendous innovation in journalism.

“This could be the golden age of journalism,” he said, “if we could only find the way to pay for it.”

Panel members also discussed the coverage of the crisis engulfing the Big Three automakers and the Michigan media’s close connection to the daily drama unfolding in Detroit and Washington.

“It’s not just a business story; it’s a community story,” said Omari Gardner, the Detroit Free Press’s news editor of digital media. “It’s our top priority right now.”

Gardner also said how coverage of the Big Three was increasingly difficult due to lack of cooperation from the auto industry companies, adding that General Motors “is notorious for being an insular institution.”

However, Marla Drutz, vice-president of WDIV-TV in Detroit, emphasized that the ongoing auto industry crisis has proven beneficial for local news outlets as it has given these outlets an opportunity to win back viewers who hadn’t tuned into the station for a while.

“We’ve become the local outlet for (the auto industry coverage),” she said.

Vincent Duffy, news director for Michigan Radio, said he too had noticed a resurgent interest among listeners regarding the auto industry crisis. More specifically, Duffy said he’s seen a great need among the public to discuss their own experiences of the crisis.

He said he was surprised to see the intense feedback from the public after having asked listeners to e-mail their own thoughts on the auto industry’s potential collapse. He attributed this new interaction between the public and the media to the rise of new communication technologies.

“Now it’s much easier to connect with the audience in an interactive way,” he said.

Of course, new advances in journalism-related technologies do come with a few pitfalls the potential pitfalls, Duffy added.

“Every time there’s a new technical ability, our boss says, ‘That’s
great — do that too!’” he said. “So there is this burn out (among reporters). Its just go, go, go. What suffers, then, is the reporting.”

Another topic raised during the discussion was the future relationship between the media and the incoming Obama administration.

Duffy said he thinks most politicians go into office thinking they’re going to be close to the media, but that they usually get burned after a long campaign that exposes the risks with being too open with the media.

Public Policy junior Sarah Pendergarten, who attended the forum, said she enjoyed the debate between the panel members who all represent some of Michigan’s most venerable media outlets.

She added that she appreciated the panel members’s willingness to discuss issues of concern to those in the audience.

“It was really focused on what the audience wants, like if they see that a lot of people are looking at the Big Three auto company stories online, then they’ll play those more prominently on TV and in the news,” she said.

Taryn Hartman, a University graduate now working at a Detroit-area newspaper, said she found the forum interesting, but added that it did little to answer the questions she has as a young journalist.

“How much longer are we gonna have hard products that we can hold in our hands?” she asked.

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