Seattleites Paul Steinle and Sara Brown have completed a year-long road trip to answer the question, “Who needs newspapers?” They presented their findings last week at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications (AEJMC) national convention in St. Louis.

The findings of their 50-state tour are available on the Who Needs Newspapers? website. The bottom line, Steinle told the AEJMC audience, is “Newspapers are not sitting in hospice.” They are transforming themselves for the digital world with multimedia content on multiple platforms.

The husband and wife drove a truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer across the country. They visited one newspaper in each state with three goals:

  1. Provide the newspaper industry fresh information about how change is being managed — with an emphasis on what works and what doesn’t work;
  2. Clarify the value of local newspapers for the public; and
  3. Collect useful insights for students considering journalism careers.

The WNN website includes reports from each state. In Washington, Steinle and Brown interviewed Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen, Executive Editor David Boardman andother  senior editors. Videotapes of the interviews are on the site.

Each state report includes a large amount of data about the publication, including staff size, circulation, web traffic and key contacts. The project is an amazing accomplishment.

As for who needs newspapers, the website acknowledges it is an ironic rhetorical question. “But the fact is, since 1704 when the Boston News-Letter hit the streets, the news agenda in the United States has been largely dictated by the local newspaper industry. Newspapers play a critical civic role: local newspaper reporters are the source of most of the original enterprise reporting in the USA.”

Brown, Ph.D., is a veteran of the newspaper industry as a human resource professional, management trainer, columnist and educator. She was vice president of human resources at The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington, and manager of organization development at the Los Angeles Times. She holds an M.S. from the University of San Francisco and a doctorate in human and organization systems from the Fielding Graduate Institute.

Steinle is a veteran journalist, news media manager and journalism educator. He was the president of UPI and the Financial News Network; a news director at KING-TV in Seattle, and associate provost at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon. Steinle has an M.B.A. from Harvard and an M.S. from Syracuse University.

WNN is an initiative of Valid Sources, a Seattle-based non-profit organization formed to “identify and promote excellent, ethically-balanced journalism.” The organization says of itself:

Our mission is to identify models of excellence, which aspire to seek the truth and report it, to document these activities and to raise these profiles. This organization seeks to fulfill two goals:

  • Elevate the public’s understanding of the value of ethically-balanced journalism, and
  • Inform the journalism community of best journalism practices.