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AEJMC Newspaper Division
by Wilson Lowrey, division head
Prominent voices in the industry and in the academy are sounding alarm bells -- and even death knells -- for newspapers. Doomsayers for print journalism are nothing new. But the stature of some of the recent doomsayers has attracted attention, and troubling stats such as plummeting circulation rates for younger readers have increased anxiety. It's time for the division to weigh in on these frequently discussed topics, to brainstorm about new directions for newspapers (or whether new directions are necessary), and to think about how the future of newspapers relates to journalism education.
Toward this end, the Newspaper Division will host a year-long online discussion among division members and selected newspaper professionals about the future of newspapers. Can newspapers stay relevant in the lives of individuals, in the lives of our communities, and in the maintenance of democracy? If so, how? And how can we best communicate to our students the importance of newspapers? New professors, senior scholars, doctoral students, industry professionals -- all are encouraged to speak their minds.
The discussion's primary focus will be on the social and political roles of newspapers rather than on business strategies. But these topics are interrelated, and some discussion of financial issues is necessary and appropriate. Also, this discussion is not intended as a civic journalism or community journalism project, though of course ideas from these movements will enter into the discussion. Finally, many may feel that change is not necessary. In the questions asked and in the discussion, it will not be assumed that new directions are critical or inevitable.
So how are we going to do this?
Discussions will take place on a online discussion forum and NOT via the e-mail listserv. No one's e-mail box will get filled up, and in fact discussion comments won't be allowed on the listserv. Occasional e-mails with discussion topics will be sent to members via the division listserv, and these will include a link to the forum. Two or three discussion-prompting e-mails will be sent in the fall and two or three more will be sent in the spring. These questions will also be posted on the division Web site. In the fall, questions will focus on newspapers and their relationship to society and to readers. In the spring, questions will focus on students and journalism curricula. But we'll see where the discussion takes us and be willing to go with the flow (within limits). Discussion will be monitored by the division head, the PF&R chair and the Teaching Standards chair.
A roundtable discussion will be held at the 2006 AEJMC convention in San Francisco that includes contributors to the online discussion -- journalism scholars, industry professionals and students. The division Head, the PF&R Chair, the Teaching Standards Chair and the Vice Head will collaborate on selecting these. Comments from the year will be presented and discussed, and an effort will be made to reach some consensus regarding best practices for industry and academia. Results of the online and roundtable discussions will be disseminated via Newspaper Research Journal, trade publications and the division Web site.
In addition, "results so far" will also be presented at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in March 2006 and at a convention on community journalism in Anniston, Ala., in February 2006.
Watch for the first discussion prompting e-mail in October. I hope you can help us brainstorm on what's next for newspapers. Questions? Please send them to Division Head Wilson Lowrey at email@example.com.