Time’s Nancy Gibbs says demand has never been greater for ‘responsible, authoritative reporting’

Nancy Gibbs and Alex S. Jones

Nancy Gibbs and Alex S. Jones

February 14, 2013 – Amid news of Time Warner possibly selling off most of its print magazines, Nancy Gibbs, deputy managing editor of Time magazine, told the Shorenstein Center that she is “enormously optimistic” about the future of the publication, and the journalism industry as a whole.

Gibbs began by looking back at Time‘s history, with its founders inventing “curation and aggregation” of the news. But “Time was never just about the news,” she said, “the richness and depth of reporting was extraordinary.” Yet throughout its years of many permutations, there have been multiple stories written about how Time would not be able to survive, as the arrival of cable news, the Internet, and the 24-hour news cycle seemed to threaten its existence. “I’m not a sentimentalist about print,” Gibbs stated,  “I am an extreme disciple of storytelling,” and Time‘s ability to gather information “about things that matter” and to put those stories “into sharable form” has kept it relevant.

“I don’t particularly think people care what we think – I think they care what we can find out,” Gibbs stated, and Alex Jones, Shorenstein Center Director, challenged her statement by arguing, “I subscribe to that; I’m not so sure that’s the premise upon which these institutions are moving forward, though.” Gibbs responded that “anyone can have an opinion, those are cheap.…Finding things out is an expensive operation.” An opinion is an “easier project to manufacture,” but quality information gathering is something only a trusted and respected institution can do with trained professionals, she said. Even columnists who do their own reporting, she continued, have “a very different kind of authority” than other opinion writers who don’t do any background work. Time’s credibility, therefore, depends on “having done the work.”

On the business side, Gibbs said that with 25 million subscribers to the print edition and 25 million online readers, an audience of 50 million is something the founding editors of Time “would only have dreamed of.” So she admitted that “we don’t have an audience problem, we have a revenue problem.” Yet she remains “confident” that the journalism industry will figure out a sustainable economic model, and as online news streams grow and advance, “the demand and the need for good, strong, responsible, authoritative reporting has never been greater, in fact, the more bad information that is out there, the more the need for reliable information grows.”

Article and photo by Janell Sims, Shorenstein Center.