Veteran editor to offer media ‘field report’

Posted Oct. 06, 2009, at 7:04 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:40 a.m.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Mike Jacobs, whose newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize, insists that newspapers are not dying.

The editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and the recipient of several top journalism awards said during a recent interview that newspapers can compete in a world in which Internet-thirsty consumers want up-to-the-minute information disseminated to their computers.

To compete and survive, he said, newspapers simply must create and adhere to a new business model.

Jacobs will present his thoughts on what that model should look like, along with other ideas about the industry, when he lectures tonight at the University of Maine at Presque Isle Campus Center.

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His topic: “Just How Anxious Are We? A Report from the Field on Media in America” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Jacobs, 61, is UMPI’s second Distinguished Lecturer of the 2009-10 academic year.

He brings to campus more than 40 years of journalism experience, including the 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage his Grand Forks newspaper provided in the wake of flooding, a blizzard and a fire that devastated much of Grand Forks in the spring of 1997.

Jacobs, who joined the Herald in 1978, will offer his reflections on some of the newspaper’s and community’s experiences and discuss the importance of service and community journalism.

The lecture comes on the heels of a free community workshop, “Replacing Place in Modern Communities,” that Jacobs delivered at UMPI on Tuesday evening.

During the recent interview, Jacobs said he would address decisions newspapers are making because of the economic downturn and in light of the growing number of readers who want, and get, their news online.

“Newspapers are vital,” Jacobs stressed. “They give news to a number of sources, including television news shows and online sites. You often see an online blog or news site pass on information and point out that the information was first discovered by a newspaper. You see a television anchor who will say, ‘according to this newspaper’ and then give out the information that the newspaper found out.

“Newspapers are not dying and they should not die,” he said. “It is important to the success of civil discourse and democracy that they survive.”

During Wednesday’s lecture, Jacobs will explore the implications of changing demographics, economics and technology on all types of media, focusing on newspapers. The talk will include a review of trends in the newspaper industry, including financial implications of demographic and technological changes.

Jacobs noted that newspapers today are facing a decline in advertising revenue.

“That decline seems to be inevitable,” he said. “So there needs to be a shift in the newspaper model so that a newspaper can survive and thrive. That is apparent.”

During Jacobs’ tenure as editor, the Herald won the North Dakota Newspaper Association’s general excellence award 15 times and was named one of America’s best small daily newspapers by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In 1998, the Herald won the Pulitzer for Public Service, American journalism’s highest award, for maintaining publication during the flood and fire that devastated Grand Forks. That same year, Jacobs was named editor of the year by the National Press Foundation and won ASNE’s distinguished writing award for a series of editorials about flood recovery.

Jacobs acknowledged that his time in the industry has given him a firsthand look at the growth of Internet news.

“Many entities are trying to create an Internet publication that will be financially viable,” he said. “It has yet to be done. We need to look at this issue and make information sharing on the Internet financially viable.”

Despite the challenges, Jacobs said, he believes this is “an exciting time to be in the information business.”

“People are looking around for models of getting information out there that will work,” he said. “This is a time of great opportunity for people who are interested in the information business, just like the post-Watergate years were a great opportunity for those interested in print journalism. The information business is a great business, and there are opportunities for finding out how to make it work.”

UMPI’s Distinguished Lecture Series was established in 1999 and brings to campus five or six speakers from a range of disciplines and viewpoints. The speakers typically spend two days at UMPI, meeting with classes and presenting a community lecture.

Jacobs’ lecture is free and the public is invited.

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