For photographers and writers, winning a Pulitzer Prize is the crowning glory of only a select few. Winning within one’s first year of reporting is simply unheard of.
But Austin American-Statesman columnist Ken Herman did just that. Speaking to a group of students and faculty, Herman told of his road to the Pulitzer Prize, his career since and where the news media industry is going.
Herman reported on a story of a Marine’s death at a training camp in San Diego. The Marine was reportedly unqualified for enlistment and suffered a brain injury during boot camp due to the rigorous training he was subjected to.
He received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1977 for his work on this story.
“None of you will have the same opportunity I did 40 years ago,” Herman said, noting how much the news media industry has been revolutionized by the Internet.
“The Internet is the biggest change in journalism since the printing press,” Herman said.
And that is the challenge many newspapers are facing. Even prominent papers like the Dallas Morning News have been forced to lay off employees, and even talk of relocating from their historical office in Downtown Dallas.
After his speech, Herman took questions from the audience. One student brought up the increasing influence of social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook and how they affect the news industry.
“All I know for sure is this iPhone I have, which is a miracle, somehow five years from now — we are laughing at it,” Herman said.
Journalism, public relations and new media department chair Dr. Sara Stone says she is also worried how the news is affected by social media.
“The attention span is miniscule,” Stone said, listing the progression from email to Facebook and, eventually, to smartphone applications like Twitter and Snapchat.
Yet the adoption of such new and different technologies have allowed for some businesses to thrive. Buzzfeed and The Huffington Post, which were both born in the 21st century, boast millions of unique visitors per month. Both are prominent due in part to their large social media presence — and both operate entirely online.
Herman said he did not have an answer for where the industry is headed. Recalling watching “The Jetsons,” a 1960’s cartoon show based on the future, Herman said that was his idea of the future.
“The thing I didn’t conceive was an information revolution,” Herman said.
And with information being as available as a touch on a screen, people are less inclined to pay for a subscription to news services. Noting this tendency, as well as the decline of print sales and the advertisement revenues accompanying them, many papers are forced to seek other alternatives.
Some now operate as nonprofits. Herman referenced the Texas Tribune, an Austin based online news source, as one of these nonprofits.
Others use shared services from different papers under the larger management of a single corporation. Such is the case with Herman’s paper, the Austin American-Statesman, and its owner, Cox Media.
As much as the fourth estate is touted as the watchdog of society, Herman reminded the audience of a key purpose of newspapers.
“The first purpose of all newspapers is to make money — it’s a business,” Herman said.