NYT writer visits UD, discusses future of journalism

By: Moira Bonadonna – Staff Writer

One Science Center room at the University of Dayton was full of budding journalists on Wednesday, March 19, to listen to Sam Sifton, a New York Times senior editor, imbue his thoughts on the future of journalism.

Personable and easy to listen to, Sifton began his talk with a definitive answer to the question, “Where is the field of journalism heading?”

It is moving toward mobile, according to Sifton. Several nodding heads in the audience showed they largely agreed with that answer.

Sifton said The New York Times will continue to publish the paper in print, but he does not think it is the future.

“Service is what newspapers are all about in addition to casting light where no light is shown otherwise,” Sifton said. “News going mobile means figuring out new technology so we can deliver news and service to you in the way that you need.”

There are many subscribers to the Times, but when separating those subscribers into specific demographics, the numbers take on a new meaning.

“Subscribers under 30 to the printed publication are lower than we’d like, but significantly higher in digital subscriptions,” Sifton said.

One student agreed with Sifton point.

“It’s impossible to ignore that journalism is going mobile,” junior journalism major Erin Callahan said. “The Times wants to keep the printed edition going, but Sifton was right when he said it would be a mistake to not develop the mobile aspect as well.”

Just as there are those people who prefer physical books to e-books, Sifton holds a certain appreciation for the print edition of the newspaper as opposed to online or mobile versions.

“I think it’s really cool to read it, though. There’s a lot of serendipity to flipping through the pages compared to scrolling down online,” he said.

In going mobile, there are certain challenges to consider, and keeping the reader interested and engaged is one of them.

“We want to have reach, and get our stuff out there,” Sifton said. “On Twitter you can only post 140 characters. That’s the challenge. I cannot fit the whole article, but I hope that I can get enough in 140 characters to get you to click the link to read the story.”

Another complication has to do with citizen journalism, when ordinary people post something they see—a picture or a status update—to a social media site and it’s called news, he said.

“The fallacy is that citizens are going to tell the whole and complete story,” Sifton said. “We’re not interested in what the citizens think the story is, but we are interested in sources. Newspapers are cynics. You’ve gotta’ know who you’re talking to via social media and in real life.”

To Sifton, news reporting is more than just gossip or what E! News says.

“I really believe in what we’re doing as an enhancement of society,” Sifton said. “We are fast, accurate, impartial, considered, and responsible in our news reporting. I was national editor during the Boston bombing, and we picked up no corrections during that time. It was one of the most proud instances in my career.”

Currently a senior editor, Sifton said he is working on a cooking project in which he’ll be taking the dining page that is in the printed version of the paper, and bringing that online to turn it into a food page.

“I’m wicked excited about it because it’s fun, but also because it provides a window to the future of journalistic enterprise,” he said.

Sifton’s talk met with good reception from those in attendance.

“I loved it a lot. It was very informative and well done,” junior English and journalism major, Eileen Comerford said. “Sam Sifton has a cool and engaging presence, and I didn’t lose interest once.”

“I’m glad that I came,” Callahan stated. “It’s really good to hear the reality of journalism and how some people just read the news and don’t think about what actually goes into it. Me, being a journalism major, it was helpful to know what to expect once I graduate.”

Sam Sifton encouraged everyone to pick up and read a copy of The New York Times from one of the stands holding them throughout campus.

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