The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Tuesday September 27th

Q&A with ProPublica’s Steiger

_Paul Steiger, editor-in-chief, CEO and president of ProPublica, will visit UNC today to give the Reed Sarratt Distinguished Lecture through UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Steiger will be speaking about his transition from The Wall Street Journal to ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit news organization.

The organization was initially funded by a contribution from the Sandler Foundation and spends 85 cents of every dollar on news, according to its website.

It seeks to further investigative journalism, which is being “squeezed” as advertising revenues diminish at newspapers nationwide, Steiger said. All content is available free online._

The Daily Tar Heel: How would you characterize the current state of journalism?

Paul Steiger: It’s exciting and challenging. It was enormously stable over 41 years. The content of the stories changed, but the way reporting was carried out as a profession and as a business stayed remarkably consistent.

Now, any day you can wake up and something has been invented that transforms the way we do business.

People don’t even think about not having access to Google. When do you think Google first came out of the garage? It was in 1998. Twitter and other social media are just a couple years old.

The ability to get news to people on their telephones has become an enormous and important part of the game.

That’s what makes it exciting, maddening.

DTH: What do you think future journalists need to be prepared for in the 21st century?

Steiger: I think the job environment is going to be a lot like one of my daughters who is a film editor in Hollywood. She’s never had a job. She works on individual movies … When the movie is over, she packs up her stuff and leaves.

There is a lot less stability. Journalists need to be more entrepreneurial. In my day you started off at entry-level job. Then, if you performed well, you worked your way up.

Now, there are a lot of great ways to develop new ideas, but you no longer have a job for life.

But if an individual reporter develops equity in his or her byline and develops a network, he or she can be successful. It’s an environment where there are a lot of opportunities. You have to be alert to them.

DTH: Do you think journalists today are stronger or weaker due to the lack of stability?

Steiger: Journalists today are stronger in some ways, but it poses problems, too. Under the old system — a robust, highly profitable business model — there was a guarantee that the public would get value, but now it’s not guaranteed. But we are getting good results.

The unconventional sources of news provide stuff we wouldn’t have gotten.

DTH: What are the top three things journalists need to be prepared for upon graduating?

Steiger: First of all, journalists need to be curious, inquisitive and not afraid to ask stupid questions. The best way to get smart information is to ask naive questions.

The second thing is competitiveness and determination.

The third thing is integrity. I think it is immensely important, it’s crucial, that journalists maintain a reputation of accuracy and fairness. Their credibility is based on that reputation. Those three values are even more important than the ability to write, edit or shoot video.

DTH: What do you say to journalism students who are worried by the poor job market?

Steiger: My view is that journalism has never been a place for someone whose primary goal is safety. But for people who want to help their fellow citizens get the information they need to live their lives, there has never been a better time to be a journalist.

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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