Hearst’s Bronstein Takes On Colbert: Internet Is Not Killing Newspapers — But Google Isn’t Helping

For some perverse reason, Phil Bronstein, editor-at-large of Hearst Newspapers and the SF Chronicle, decided to go on the Colbert Report and defend the worth of newspapers. On his blog, Bronstein, the former editor of the Chronicle — which Hearst has threatened with closure or sale unless unions submit concessions — expressed some qualms about his appearance earlier in the day. After all, last week, Colbert conducted a painfully hilarious interview with Newspaper Association of America’s John Sturm. (See that video after the jump).

In the end, he had little to fear, as Bronstein got off with some gentle ribbing by the satirical host (Colbert: “I understand you’re a newspaper editor. I assume you’re here to apply for a job.”).

Some other examples of the give-and-take, after the jump

Colbert: “I have read that newspapers are dying. Do you want to know where I read that? In a newspaper. Why don’t you print happier news about yourselves and then people will have faith in you again. It’s like walking into a bar and saying, ”Who wants to buy me a drink? I have herpes.” Bronstein switched the conversation from a medical metaphor to a nautical one, saying that journalists were on a sinking ship and therefore were sounding the alarm.

Bronstein: “It’s not the internet killing newspapers, it’s a variety of things.”
Colbert: “Am I one of them?”
Bronstein: “I’ll have to check your ratings. I have heard you say, many times, ‘according to the New York Times‘ about 130,000 times.'”
Colbert: “We haven’t done 130,000 shows. Where did you read that? The New York Times? They lie.”
Bronstein: “No, I Googled it.”
Colbert: “Google’s killing you people.”
Bronstein: “Google (NSDQ: GOOG) is not helping. There was a big argument this week about whether Google ought to be paying newspapers. They’re getting our content for free and charging [for] advertising when they post it.” More after the jump

Asked about the fate of the The Chronicle, Bronstein told Colbert he believes it will hang in there. “Instead of focusing on the paper part, which may go away, we need to focus on the news part.” He then called newspapers’ decision not to charge for their online content in the early days of the internet an “Adam and Eve apple moment.” But by relying on online advertising, which has been declining at many newspapers and still makes up a small amount of revenue for most, the companies are having a tough time keeping staffing levels up. “Newspapers are the only institutions that are supporting rooms of journalists. It cost The Boston Globe about $1 million to investigate sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Blogs can’t afford to do that. The Huffington Post can’t afford to do that.”

The interview then moved on to the fate of the music industry. Colbert noted that while the industry is in trouble, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) is able to get users to pay for song downloads. Can newspapers emulate that model? “Bronstein responded, saying people using iTunes were faced with the possibility of going to jail if they downloaded music illegally. “Maybe we should have jail terms for people who don’t pay for news.” The First Amendment will protect us from that, Colbert answered, prompting Bronstein to wonder if perhaps the notion of “free” is part the problem. “People are trying all sorts of things. Micropayments, like iTunes, that was discussed at a publishers’ conference this week. I’m on the board of a group that funds investigative reporting, where we get grants and private donor support. There are a lot of methods being tried and a lot of them do involve the internet.” (Video of the Bronstein interview wasn’t immediately available, so check out the excruciating clip of the NAA’s Sturm after the jump.)

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