Mark Thompson, the former CEO of The New York Times, spoke at the Annenberg School for Communication about challenges facing journalism today.
At the virtual event titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Securing the Future of Independent News,” Thompson discussed his tenure at the Times and his quest to deliver unbiased journalism in the age of “fake news” and increased political polarization. The lecture and following question and answer session was part of the Andrea Mitchell Center for the Study of Democracy’s “Free Speech Battles” series.
The Oct. 13 event was also hosted by the Annenberg School, the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the Center for Media at Risk. The Q&A was moderated by professor of communication and Director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Kathleen Hall Jamieson and professor of political science and Director of the Andrea Mitchell Center Jeffrey Green.
Thompson was the CEO and president of The New York Times from November 2012 to July 2020. Prior to that, he served as the Director-General of the BBC for eight years. Under Thompson's leadership, the Times greatly expanded its digital presence, with their digital subscribers amounting to nearly six million as of this year, a more than tenfold increase during his tenure, Penn Today reported.
In his lecture, Thompson discussed the growing challenges facing independent journalism. The two most significant problems, Thompson said, are the financial issues of modern print media and the public’s increasing doubt in independent news sources.
“This kind of journalism is fighting a war on not one but two fronts. The first is economic; the second is political and cultural," Thompson said. "The first threatens the business models that pay for good journalism; the second questions the value of independent news, even its right to exist.”
In order to solve these problems, Thompson said independent journalists and media companies must be ready to adapt to the shifting demands of the public, Penn Today reported. While at the Times, Thompson’s strategy to meet these demands was to focus less on monetization and more on producing quality journalism, creating new digital products, and expanding audiences.
“If we meet the audience demand for good journalism, the business problems can be solved,” Thompson said at the event.
He added that the podcast "The Daily" was successful in attracting new, younger readers, as more than half of the listeners are under 30 years old.
Thompson also praised Penn for its own willingness to adapt as an institution and for embodying the values of independent journalism.
“[Penn] is a university with enduring values but also a university which has always shown itself willing to adapt to retain its relevance,” Thompson said at the event. “It seems to me that its defining spirit is one of cultural optimism, the belief that knowledge and expertise are not just valuable to those who acquire them but can help build a better world, culturally, politically, scientifically.”