CHAMPAIGN, Ill. The number of independent family-owned newspapers has rapidly declined in recent years as corporate chains have increased their holdings. What that and other recent trends mean for journalism, for communities, and for democracy will be the focus of a symposium Sept. 8-10 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The symposium, "The Independent Family Newspaper in America: Its Future and Relevance," will take place at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana. Participants will include prominent names from all sides of the issue.
The event should be of interest not only for those in journalism, "but also for anybody who really cares about how we receive our information in this society and how the news media does its job," says John Foreman, the editor and general manager of the
News-Gazette, an independent Champaign paper celebrating its 150th anniversary.
The symposium commemorates that anniversary, along with the 75th anniversary of Illinois' College of Communications. The event is sponsored by the paper and its owner-publisher, Mrs. Marajen Stevick Chinigo, and by the college's department of journalism.
The various talks and panel discussions are open to the public. Those planning to attend most of the event are encouraged to register, free of charge, by Aug. 26.
Speakers for the symposium include Al Neuharth, former head of Gannett Newspapers; Walter Hussman, publisher of the independent Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; Jack Fuller, president of Tribune Publishing Co.; Brandt Ayers, editor and publisher of the independent Anniston (Ala.) Star; Frank Blethen, publisher and CEO of the Seattle Times Co.; Thomas Kunkel, dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, and Robert McChesney, professor in Illinois' Institute of Communications Research and the author of the book "Rich Media, Poor Democracy."
The schedule of speakers and panel discussions:
Sept. 8 (Sunday)
- 6:30 p.m. Opening remarks, followed by speaker Frank Blethen, whose company publishes one of the largest family-owned papers in the nation
Sept. 9 (Monday)
- 8 a.m. Opening remarks, followed by speaker Robert McChesney and then a panel discussion, "The Odd Couple of Today's Newsroom: Profits and Public Service"
- 10 a.m. Speaker Brandt Ayers, followed by a panel discussion, "Matching Content to Community: How Can the Corporate Newspaper Preserve the Distinctive Character of the Community Newspaper?"
- 1:30 p.m. Speaker Tom Kunkel, followed by a panel discussion, "Before and After: What Happens When a Chain Buys Your Hometown Newspaper?"
- 7 p.m. Keynote address by Al Neuharth, who, as head of Gannett Newspapers, amassed what was at one time the largest group of daily newspapers in the nation
Sept. 10 (Tuesday)
- 8 a.m. Opening remarks, followed by speaker Walter Hussman and then a panel discussion, "Maintaining the Culture and Integrity of News in an Era of Bottom-Line Journalism"
- 10 a.m. Speaker Jack Fuller, followed by a panel discussion, "Remembering the Reader: Building Relationships While Selling Content"
- Noon Closing remarks
Concerns surrounding ownership and profit have received greater attention in recent years in the media industry, Foreman said. "It seemed an appropriate time to see if we could generate a true national discussion."
For Ron Yates, the head of Illinois' department of journalism, the issue is important not only for newspapers, but also for the public that relies on them to play roles as watchdog, advocate and the voice for the community.
For more information or to register, call (217) 333-2880 or (877) 455-2687 (toll free).