By Jacob Turnrose | News Editor

The Collegian had the pleasure of interviewing Audrey Cooper, Editor-in-Chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, before her lecture on Monday, Feb. 26. She spoke on the financial state of American journalism as a whole, the role of student journalism, how prospective journalists can get a leg up, and why forcing people to read print journalism is irrelevant.

Why are many newspapers in financial trouble?

“Newspapers still make money—there’s this idea that newspapers are losing money. [It’s] not true,” Cooper said. “They [just] don’t make as much money as they used to.”

She pointed to how newspapers that were once family-owned shifted to being publicly traded corporations as the largest reason why many of them are struggling.

“Historically, rich people who wanted to influence friends and intimidate their enemies…owned newspapers,” she said. This was the case until around the 1950’s. “Then, newspapers started to go public because they’re making a lot of money.” But with this, she said, came the responsibility for newspaper executives to start answering to shareholders. 

“[Today,] the revenue curve is going to wrong way,” she said. Newspapers are not making as much money as they’re used to. “So in order to make the same amount of profit year after year and keep [shareholders] happy, they have to either raise revenue or cut expenses. When you don’t know how to raise revenue, you cut expenses…The only expense you can really cut is the newsroom.”

While many newspapers have shrunk in recent years, including the East Bay Times, the San Francisco Chronicle has grown, according to Cooper.

“We made a very conscientious decision to [increase revenue] from subscribers,” Cooper said.

This allowed the Chronicle to avoid relying too heavily on advertisers, who are turning to other advertising platforms more and more.

“[The Chronicle] was one of the first [newspapers] to dramatically increase the cost of subscription, knowing that it would shed a lot of the less dedicated readers…But [we believed that] the core readers would stick with us, and they did.”

“Now every [newspaper] is realizing that it needs to [increase revenue] through consumers instead of advertisers, but they’ve cut [their newsroom] so much that it isn’t worth paying for,” she said.

How do you become a professional journalist?

When Cooper first started out as a journalist, she applied [to] over 60 newspapers without any luck. “There were a lot more [newspapers] back then,” she said. She ended up working for free at the now defunct Tri Valley Herald in the Manteca Bureau. “Manteca is the best place in the world to cover news because weird stuff happens [there]. I really liked working there because you didn’t have to look very hard to find a news story.” Cooper recommends working for a small, neighborhood-based newspaper. “Neighborhood newspapers, like the Montclarion [in Piedmont] are always looking for people to do a story for $25,” she said.

But the most important thing for prospective journalists to consider is getting an internship at a media outlet. “Internships are not optional,” she said. She recommends getting an internship before entering one’s third year of college.

Having a diverse background is also important, she said. “A diverse newsroom is better, because it better represents their community.”

Socioeconomic diversity in particular is important to Cooper. “We have a lot of kids who got a Master’s degree from Berkeley; they all grew up middle class. We don’t have a lot of people who grew up truly poor,” she said, “and we don’t have very many debutantes either! People are always shocked, but [the Chronicle] talks to a lot of rich people all day long,” she said. “Being able to [run] in those circles is a useful skill.”

What should the role of student journalism be?

“Shake [expletive] up,” Cooper said. “Ultimately, your job is to speak truth to those in power.” She recommends finding where the sources of power are on campus and highlighting also the issues that the college community cares most about. “Promote and provoke discourse,” she said, “that is mature and respectful.”

People hear the phrase “source of power” and automatically think of the President, Cooper said. “But sometimes it means the teacher’s union.”

“It can be very lonely being a journalist because everybody hates you equally if you’re doing your job right.”

She also stressed the importance of fact-checking and being conscientious of the power journalists wield. “Words are very powerful things. If you’re going to hint at somebody doing something that’s less than completely honorable, you have to make sure that your [research] is unimpeachable and perfect insofar as you can make it that way,” she said.

Is there value in reading print media, as opposed to digital media?

“I think studies will show that you retain more things when you read them on a printed piece of paper,” Cooper said, “But that’s a useless argument to make … I’m never going to convince a twenty one year old that they need to get a newspaper subscription. That’s just not going to happen.”

“If I were not the editor of the Chronicle, I would not get it delivered to my front door,” said Cooper. “But I read everything in it … on my phone [each] morning before I get myself out of bed.”

“I don’t care if you get your news through social media or newsletters or the paper or online, as long as you read,” said Cooper. “That’s why I became a journalist: to get people more involved in their community and allow them to make more informed decisions. You can’t do that if you don’t read.”

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