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Woodward: Papers will struggle, but news will survive

May 12, 2009

Wauwatosa - One of America's best-known journalists said Tuesday that newspapers will continue to struggle, but that as news organizations they will survive, perhaps delivering their product in a way yet to be devised.

Bob Woodward, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter and best-selling author, also said there are signs that Barack Obama's administration will be more transparent than George W. Bush's, but it is too soon to know for sure.

Woodward spoke to more than 300 people at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

The luncheon was held to raise money for the Wauwatosa Public Library Foundation.

In an interview, Woodward, 66, said he is confident that a new approach to delivering the news will emerge.

"Some young geniuses younger than you and I are going to have to come in and figure out new business models because, obviously, the business model that exists is failing," he said.

Woodward predicted that newspapers will continue losing revenue and circulation for some time, which, in turn, could cause investigative reporting to suffer.

Such in-depth journalism will survive, however, because "people know we got to know what's going on," Woodward said.

"But there will be a crisis of where was the press when some power center totally blew it," he said.

Woodward and Carl Bernstein won a 1973 Pulitzer Prize for exposing the Watergate scandal.

He later won a second Pulitzer at the Post and has written or co-written 11 best-selling books.

New journalistic techniques such as the use of social networking on the Internet will be important in reaching audiences, but the most important technique in producing important journalism will continue to be cultivating people, Woodward said.

"The key to getting important news that's hidden and concealed is human sources - developing relationships and trust with people who know who will help you get the story," he said.

Woodward said he agrees with the perception that journalists have been somewhat soft on Obama, but predicted it won't be long before reporters flex their "investigative muscle."

Woodward said there is evidence that, compared with George W. Bush's two administrations, the Obama government will be more transparent and that Obama himself will encourage open debate among his advisers.

But that remains to be seen, he said.

"Put me in the skeptical column. Watch what government does, not what they say," he said.

More comments from Woodward

  • Asking then-President George W. Bush on how he decided to send 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, Bush said: "I'm not at these meetings, you'll be happy to hear. I've got other things to do."
  • How colleague Carl Bernstein awakened him with a phone call to report that President Gerald Ford had pardoned Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal: "The son-of-a-bitch pardoned the son-of-a-bitch."
  • Former Vice President Al Gore: "Dinner with Al Gore is unpleasant. It's taxing. He feels strongly about everything, has opinions about everything."
  • On secrecy in government: "Democracies die in darkness. If a group of people can get together and say these are the rules, this is how we're going to do it, this is what matters and stamp it top secret or just don't talk about it, that's what will do this country in."
  • Business side of news organizations: "Even Warren Buffett, who owns 10 percent of the Washington Post stock, said the losses are going to be never-ending in the news business, and I think that's right."
  • Future of news delivery: "It's going to be the young generation - it's going to be the people who figured out Google and Facebook and Craigslist and so forth - they are going to come up with a new model to deliver the news."
  • On being named last fall by wowOwow.com as one of the 50 sexiest men older than 50: "You can't do anything for 40 years and be sexy."

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