NYT columnist, Knight Center director debate future of newspapers during investigative journalism conference in Brazil

By Isabela Fraga

If there is one message that can summarize the conversation between New York Times columnist David Carr and Professor Rosental Calmon Alves, director and founder of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, it is that, in today's journalism, if you want to do something, don't just think about it -- do it.

In the closing session of the 7th International Congress on Investigative Journalism, which concluded Saturday, July 14, in Sao Paulo, Carr and Alves talked about the U.S. newspaper crisis, the Brazilian news media situation, the use of new technologies in journalism, and possible future scenarios for both countries.

Carr, author of the column Media Equation for the New York Times, where he shares his irony and experience through analysis and (some would say pessimistic) forecasting of the situation of U.S. journalism, is also known for his participation in the documentary Page One, which shows the daily life of NYT's newsroom and how its employees deal with the crisis that generated more than 100 layoffs in 2011.

But those who think that Carr is a journalism "vulture," announcing its absolute end, is mistaken. "Do you prefer to have someone guide the piano that will fall on your head, or do you prefer to stand still, with your ears covered? Do not blame the messenger," said the journalist, in one of his many jokes during the discussion.

Alves, who teaches a course in entrepreneurial journalism at the University of Texas at Austin, agreed: "It is a type of denial (...). I don't think that newspapers are dead, but instead, the model which existed and still tries to exist."

For Carr and Alves, newspapers need to transform to coexist with the Internet, where everyone can be a journalist and publisher. But how? And how are journalists supposed to behave in the midst of so many changes?

For newspapers, one solution seems to be charging for access to digital content by erecting paywalls. The NYT chose to take this route, and evidence suggests the New York Times' paywall was a good decision. "The paywall seems to work financially, and this helps improve the newsroom climate," said Carr, reaffirming an opinion which he already expressed several times about how charging for digital content can help save the newspaper industry. Also, in Brazil, the newspaper Folha de São Paulo recently chose to implement a paywall.

Carr recommended that journalists "do stuff: talk about what is happening around you, use Twitter when you see something interesting happening, have a blog about something other than your girl or boyfriend, make projects with people from your university, every-day-life, be entrepreneurial with them." He concluded to an auditorium filled mostly with young college students: "The people of your generation are more important than anything that an [older] publisher can say."

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.