The Quogue Library reversed the role of a pair of journalists on Sunday when it brought two distinguished editors in front of an audience to answer questions for a change.
The event, billed as “Turning the Tables! Inside the World of Journalism,” let the public get an insight from Tina Brown and Sir Harold Evans into the world of journalism and the changes it’s going though with the rise of the internet.
Ms. Brown is the founder and editor-in-chief of the news and opinion website The Daily Beast, a former editor of The New Yorker and other magazines, including Vanity Fair and Talk, and the former host of CNBC’s “Topic A.” Sir Harold Evans is an editor-at-large with The Week, former editor of The Times in the United Kingdom and former president of Random House Trade Group.
Press News Group Associate Editor Andrew Botsford moderated the question and answer session as the speakers took a lighthearted tone in discussing some of the challenges and flaws of their changing industry.
Mr. Evans recalled when dozens of typewriters and scores of reporters filled newsrooms in the “All The President’s Men” days.
These days, he said, newspapers are committing suicide because businessmen take them over and in trying to make them more profitable they fire everybody who brings in the news. He jokingly characterized their approach as “I’m going to improve this newspaper by taking the news out.”
Instead of spending money going after, and verifying, hard-hitting news, papers are spending on marketing and promotion, he said. “But if there is no content left, what are they promoting?” he asked. “Nothing.”
Mr. Botsford offered an analogy: “We really should be trying to make better donuts, rather than trying to sell more donuts.”
Though Mr. Evans poked fun at the state of print newspapers, he said the internet and its bloggers will never be a replacement.
Ms. Brown, who conceded that she is a newspaper devotee who gets four newspapers every morning, said The Daily Beast writers are vetted to make sure the website does not become “an opinion vomitorium … Where everybody just sort of throws up on the page.”
Ms. Brown said one feature The Daily Beast affords her that print publications didn’t is she can track on a graphic chart that looks like a cardiogram how many readers look at a particular story, and can even see how many people are reading what story at a given time. “It’s like crack cocaine for an editor,” she said. “It’s very addictive.”
Websites also allow readers to see quotes come alive in video clips, rather than just printouts of what a speaker said, Ms. Brown said. And they give less celebrated opinion writers the opportunity to be seen by a wider audience, she added.
Ms. Brown gave as an example Jeffrey Hart, a former speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, who now blogs for The Daily Beast. Mr. Hart argued in his blog that Barack Obama is “the New Reagan,” and hundreds of thousands of people read the story.
“He’s never had this kind of attention his entire life,” she said, adding that now she can’t turn Mr. Hart off.
Mr. Evans predicted print newspapers will survive, but with a smaller, more intelligent audience. He said the internet is a poor replacement for newsrooms that are not only occupied by reporters investigating stories but verifying them too.
The same way he encouraged print publications to invest in investigative journalism, Mr. Evans encouraged television networks to do the same. Sending a television anchor on location to Iraq is not the same as sending a reporter there to investigate, no matter how convincing the anchor looks standing in the desert in a flack jacket. “You’re just wasting your time,” he advised. “Get a palm tree and a wind machine.”