Publisher sees newspapers flourishing in Internet era

RENO, Nev. - The publisher of a newspaper with one of the leading Web sites on the Internet disagrees with those who warn the print media is going the way of the dinosaur.

''Newspapers, I think, will continue to flourish,'' said Jay T. Harris, chairman and publisher of the San Jose Mercury News.

''I believe I will be selling many tens of thousands more newspapers 10 years from now than I am today,'' he said.

Harris examined ''New Media in the New Millennium'' in his keynote address Thursday to the 36th annual Scripps dinner at the University of Nevada, Reno's Reynolds School of Journalism and Center for Advanced Media Studies.

''Each of today's old media was at one time the new media of the day,'' said Harris, publisher of the Mercury News since 1994.

''Newspapers adapted quite well to national news magazines, then local and national radio and TV, both broadcast and cable.''

Harris acknowledged that, in an era where ''everyone can be a publisher,'' consumers will be forced to make difficult choices to distinguish credible news from ''plain old crackpots.''

He also worries that serious journalistic commentary is being replaced by ''the shallow babble of the masses.''

''Sometimes I think Matt Drudge and Don Imus have more influence than Bill Moyers and David Broder. And that's a pretty sad thing to say,'' he said in his speech at UNR's Lawlor Events Center.

But overall, ''I am confident the future of journalism is bright. Journalism is important and journalism as we know it will endure,'' he said.

Harris, former executive editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, has spent nearly 30 years in journalism. He was a national correspondent and columnist for Gannett News Service in Washington D.C., and a member of the faculty of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

He said it is important to distinguish between the Internet as a new medium and the purposes for which it is used.

''The new Internet-based media and journalism are not the same thing. More often than not, they are different,'' he said.

New media is a means of communicating information of all sorts, he said.

''Journalism is a profession committed to informing the public about public issues and significant events,'' he said.

The Mercury News was one of the first major newspapers to establish a Web site. New research shows about three-fourths of the adults now have access to the Web in the Silicon Valley, where the newspaper circulates.

While some saw on-line news as competition, market testing shows ''our own Web sites actually do not cannibalize our newspaper,'' Harris said.

''They are not viewed as a replacement for. They are viewed as an addition to,'' he said.

''People will increasingly look to newspapers for the depth, reliability and context they provide better than any other medium,'' he said.

Broadcast news also continues to enjoy advantages over the Internet, he said.

''With TV and radio, you are there,'' Harris said.

''No matter how quick you get something on a Web site, I think the way Americans - at times of national or international crisis - turn to CNN will be the same in 10 years as it is today,'' he said.

Harris expects the Internet to be used primarily to communicate information of all sorts, especially business, ''not primarily as a news tool.''

Most important will be ''real time'' information, like stock market quotes and sports scores, he said.

''I think e-mail and direct chat will be much more important than people anticipated,'' said Harris, whose own children are getting to know their cousins in Europe through e-mail.

''I think it may be more profound that many of us understand and may be more significant than the things we worry about.''


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