Ann Marie Lipinski

Curator, Nieman Foundation

Ann Marie Lipinski is Curator of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. She is the former Editor of the Chicago Tribune.


The cuts just kept getting bigger and more obvious … but getting to the point in the newsroom where you say ‘let’s start over’ is very hard. It’s easy for a start-up to do. But these legacy newsrooms that have long attachments in a community where their audience is used to certain things, saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to start over.’ We need to take on this kind of start-up mentality, which means we’re going to begin again with this examination of: If we were coming to town right now, or just deciding we were going to start a news organization, what would that look like? How would we best serve our audience? What does this community want from us? What does the community need from us? That’s a really hard thing to do. And the papers, the television stations, the radio stations, the online news sites, whoever you are, those who can get the closest to that I think are those who will succeed or come closest to succeeding or be able to hold onto or build new audience better than some of their peers. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of places that are doing that particularly well.

I think the explosion of podcasting is really interesting and also very promising because it’s, I think, finally a recognition of the fact that media organizations should not be siloed. And the fact that the leading podcast in the country is coming from a legacy newsprint news organization (The New York Times) is exciting, and the fact that that same news organization is growing a filmmaking enterprise within the newsroom is also exciting and at last you're seeing an organization do what we’ve been saying all along, which is that we’re platform-agnostic and we’re multimedia and all of that. And I think these are words that we throw around a lot in the industry but that are finally, I think, being taken seriously.

The problem is that these forms require new sets of resources that not all organizations have, but podcasting, for instance, is something that does not have huge barriers to entry.

I think passion detached from knowledge is where a lot of podcasts fail. And I think, again, because they’re fairly inexpensive and easy to do, at least in their most basic format, we’re overrun now with a lot of podcast choices and there’s a lot out there that’s not very good. But I think the ones that are going to be successful are the ones that you're going to turn to time and time again sometimes for the passion but I think more often for knowledge, for understanding, to have something explained to you.

Being all things to all people is not really possible right now, if it ever was.

One of the things I have hated the most from this era of constrained resources is the ridiculous and oft-repeated notion that the newsroom is going to ‘do more with less.’ The fact that anyone says that with a straight face to its audience is offensive and the fact is newsrooms have to learn to do different with less, but it’s pretty rarely more. So I think with that as a kind of an umbrella statement, let me add that I think the papers or the newsrooms that are finding a way to focus and do well with things that they decide to emphasize are the ones that have the best chance of success.