Why Ezra Klein and Paywalls Are the Future of Journalism

Tim Franklin, incoming president of the Poynter Institute, talks with TheWrap about the need for urgency

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Tim Franklin, incoming president of the Poynter Institute, believes that paywalls and the Ezra Keins of the business are its future.

The outgoing Washington managing editor for Bloomberg News is taking the key role at the St. Petersberg, Fla., based school for professional journalists at a pivotal time for the media business and journalism education: Both are undergoing tectonic shifts as they struggle to find viable economic models.

But he is confident progress is being made on both accounts.

“The industry has been transformed, so it follows that Poynter is also going through its own transformation,” Franklin told TheWrap. “But I’m confident in its future.”

Tim Franklin headshotAlso read: Robert Redford Returns to the Newsroom Only to Find Egos, Loose Ethics

Franklin pointed to paywalls at organizations such as the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and entrepreneurs like Klein who have created stand-alone brands as possible signs amid the layoffs and the loss of profits roiling major newsrooms

“These are disruptive changes and journalism has become harder, but that increases the need to train journalists to navigate the landscape we’re in,” Franklin said. “In any sector that has major disruptive changes there are winners and losers, and the winners are beginning to emerge. They’re going to be folks like Ezra Klein who offer content that is unique and original that people are willing to pay for.”

Franklin is taking over from Karen Dunlap, who retired in October. He offers a breadth of experience in print, digital, video and academia. Aside from Bloomberg, he has also had reporting and editing stints at major papers such as the Chicago Tribune, the Orlando Sentinel and the Baltimore Sun.

On the academic side, Franklin was the founding director of the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University.

It was this mixture of professional accomplishments that made him such an appealing candidate, according to Paul Tash, Tampa Bay Times CEO and the chairman of the Poynter Institute trustees. In particular, Tash was drawn to Franklin’s experience at the National Sports Journalism Center.

“It was an example of building something — of seeing opportunities and creating them,” he said.

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Both men acknowledge that enhancing Poynter’s digital course offerings will be key, as even professional newspapermen and women are spending more of their time writing for the web.

“In the digital space, it is critical to be fast and first, but you can’t sacrifice accuracy or bend ethical rules,” Franklin said. “A sense of urgency in the digital space is critical and utilizing social media to spread the world about stories is essential.”

Though Twitter, Facebook and other internet platforms have allowed news to disseminate faster and farther than ever before, the web has been unforgiving when it comes to older business models. Poynter is no exception.

The non-profit school owns and operates the Tampa Bay Times, which in turn, used to provide financial support to Poynter. The downturn in the newspaper’s financial fortunes no longer makes that arrangement feasible and the papers and magazines that once sent staffers to Poynter for instruction are cutting costs.

Franklin noted that earlier this week he was editing State of the Union stories for Bloomberg and has yet to dig into the school’s finances, but it’s clearly a priority.

“My goal is to talk to faculty and staff and Poynter alums and professionals and to devise a strategy that is both short term and long term for Poynter,” Franklin said. “We need to move, not impulsively, but with a sense of urgency.”