Winter 1999 - Spring 2000

1951: How Can Newspapers Meet Competition of Radio and Television?

By John S. Hayes
[This article originally appeared in the October 1951 issue of Nieman Reports.]

The challenge of television to the newspaper is one which newspapermen cannot take lightly, and one which you must consider, as radio is having to do. What you face, and for that matter what radio faces, is an intense new competition for the free time of the American public. Time to read newspapers. Time to listen to the radio. Time to watch a television set.

What is important, is that each of the media makes certain that it has its proper share of this free time. The challenge, then, which television and radio toss at you is this: that you so conduct your newspaper press that you are able successfully to compete with radio and television for your equitable share of the overall time to be given to reading and listening and watching.

If you do not consider carefully what you can do better than radio or television, and emphasize that part of your operation, you will find yourselves in a losing battle for time, and you will find the public will drift from you to the other media.

It seems to me that if I were a newspaper editor I would be more concerned, in view of television reporting, with seeing to it that my coverage of those events, which were also televised, would henceforth put as much emphasis on background and analysis as on cold reporting.

The newspaper enjoys a certain advantage in mobility. The two legs of a reporter can carry your newspaper into places not easily reached by the cumbersome cameras of a television crew. What did Mr. Costello say after the hearings? What about his family? What is the story of Mr. Costello’s life? What is the background to the appointment of Senator Kefauver’s Committee? These are matters which the television cameras cannot easily cover, but these are topics to which your men may easily be assigned.

It also seems to me that if I were a newspaper editor, I would make sure that my journal gave more attention in the future to so-called minor events which might not be televised. The television camera can be in only one place at a time. It can broadcast only one fire during one hour. It can program only one parade in one program segment. But you can be everywhere, and at the same time. If the television camera is at a fire downtown, your men can be at the same fire, and at the same moment be at police headquarters on the other side of town.

I think you must now consider in your daily news budgets where the television camera has been before you. And you must not be so dazzled by the importance of an event that you forget many of your readers have already witnessed the event in their living room. You must be sure that you give coverage to other events which have occurred that day—events, which to you, in the classic tradition of editing, may not seem as important. Unless you do this, you will find the American public looking upon their newspapers as a secondary medium of information where once you had enjoyed some primacy in that field.

John S. Hayes, President, WTOP (Washington Post Radio Station), made these remarks to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

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