The Internet journalist of tomorrow will not be defined by his/her tech-savviness alone, but by the same earnest drive that moved print journalists of yesterday, newsbook writers of old and town criers of yore to accurately record and honestly share the happenings of the world, according to Gregory Lamb.
“To be in journalism today, you can’t be a technophobe,” he said in a recent interview. “But on the other hand you don’t have to be mister and missis gadget guru.”
As the next generation of reporters take the reins at the Christian Science Monitor, where Lamb has worked since 1972 after he graduated Principia College, a growing number perform unprecedented jobs and utilize state-of-the-art technology. Likewise, Lamb’s first job at the Monitor was in the wire room, communicating with correspondents via teletypes and Telex, a primitive form of email, all of which, down to the wire room itself, no longer exist. But as journalists and media organizations adapt to the changing technological landscape, where information is shared and published instantly by self-sufficient, all-in-one reporters, profit-margin has been slow to catch up.
Alexander Kaufman: How has your work changed from when you began your career as a journalist to now?
Gregory Lamb: Obviously the technology. The nature of the stories themselves, the big change is writing for the Web. That’s really a fundamental rethinking that substantial. Besides that, a news story has been a news story a feature story a feature story, but there have been rends saying that people want shorter stories or … to increase international or national coverage. But every few years we have to recast ourselves as any news organization.
AK: How many online writers are on-staff at the Monitor?
GL: It’s growing. When I think about Web jobs, we’re creating jobs [for people] here that you wouldn’t all call journalists. They’re doing the underlying tech and support we need. I would agree with Steve [Ainsley, publisher of the Boston Globe] that the industry is shrinking so the more versatile the better. It’s important that a journalist can do print, broadcast, understand blogging, can use Twitter, can use Facebook.
AK: The Monitor’s recent switch from a daily print to a weekly, coupled with a beefed up Web site, has made headlines in other newspapers as news organizations everywhere struggle to find profit in the Internet Age; how do you see The Monitor’s business plan succeeding?
GL: It has. We’re still trying to get a new content management system (proprietary software that will let people file faster and more easily and the average user will find it a simpler system to work on; it will be even more centered on Web first) in place that will make us even more efficient and will make the Web site even more useful but we’ve had a growing traffic to the Web site and the weekly has gotten much more subscriptions than the daily had. More and more readers are going to find us online. That’s where we can grow our audience. We have a legacy of readers who might enjoy the weekly product even more than the daily product. These stories are more reflective and stand back, and that’s kind of a Monitor aspect. The weekly keeps us grounded right into that way of thinking. When you’re on the Web, you’ll be pulled into thinking what happened and what can we write about it in the next minute, next five minutes. We run at a deficit and have for decades, and going online really expanded our audience and eventually we hope we’ll bring in advertising revenue [from the Web site].
AK: Have you seen a reduction in staff since the switch?
GL: I think in the course of doing that, along the lines of half a dozen jobs were lost. I don’t know if people took voluntary buy-outs. Since we’ve done it, a little over six months, I don’t think we’ve had any more jobs going away.
AK: Media mogul Rupert Murdoch frequently complains that Google searches have undermined his Wall Street Journal’s new business model of paying for some stories, do you believe the Monitor’s business model helps to avoid such an inevitable problem?
GL: Yes. I really want him to do it. I really want him to get off of Google. I would love to see the experiment run, but I wouldn’t run it here at the Monitor. On a personal sense of it, it kind of goes against the ethos of the Web. To start walling things off, though we have to find a model to pay for news. But it’s working to some extent for the Wall Street Journal, people can pay and do, but their stuff gets read less.
AK: Boston media newcomers GlobalPost, who publish exclusively online, allow users to access a plethora of information for free, but grant paying members access to more pressing stories and consider input from members on upcoming stores, do you see a business like that working?
GL: It wasn’t even invented by the Internet. There’s sort of the free sample then the next level and the next level. Depending on how much value information has for you, you’re willing to go from paying nothing, to a little, to a little more. I think that’s a great model to explore. It puts the control in the readers’ hands, access and inside knowledge in the organization. I wouldn’t be surprised to us do something like that.
AK: How long has the Monitor been a publication for international news, and how does that affect your audience?
GL: I think it’s been part of the paper for the 101 years it’s existed. It’s always had an international aspect. We’ve been known as a source of international news. But sometimes we emphasized our national coverage more as a business plan, you know we’ve got to beef up this side of it because most of our readers are in the U.S. and they want to known about the U.S. We’re one of those publications with correspondents in other countries. That doesn’t make us unique but puts us in a small group that still has international coverage. You see international emphasis because, yeah, there is. It’s our contribution, the right fit for us.
AK: Now that you are on the Web, allowing global access to your stories, how does that shape your audience?
GL: We sure expect the international audience to grow. I think we have something that’s valuable to them, I suspect the Globe might be saying, “we have people who are interested in Boston all around the globe; they have family, lived here, went to school, etc. How can we tell the world about our region of the world and what’s happening here, we’re here and we do that well.” The Monitor has a different purpose of putting a reader in the chair and saying “I’m a citizen of the world, how does it affect me directly and indirectly?” I think the readership in whatever country would find the Monitor a resource.
And finally, Lamb wanted to share this with aspiring journalists of today:
“To those folks who really want to stay in journalism, I think there’s away to do it, whether setting up a blog site or the like. We need journalists. I hope students who are coming up now and want to pursue journalism don’t run off and do something else. Society needs–the world needs–intelligent, topflight students who want to become journalists.”