LA Times executive editor speaks at USC

Norman Pearlstine (center) discusses his role as the executive editor of the Los Angeles Times and the need to stay up to date with constant changes in journalism. Pearlstine is joined by professor Geoffrey Cowan (left) and School of Journalism Director Gordon Stables (right). 
(Ling Luo | Daily Trojan)

Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Norman Pearlstine spoke at the Sheindlin Forum in Wallis Annenberg Hall Tuesday, discussing the importance of unbiased media coverage and the future of the changing journalism industry.

Annenberg Dean Willow Bay introduced Pearlstine, who was joined by Professor Geoffrey Cowan and School of Journalism Director Gordon Stables. 

“I view [the Times as] a window to the future,” said Pearlstine, who was hired as executive editor of the Times in June 2018. “I think that it’s one of those things that the stories come from anywhere and you try to empower people to go with the things that they think are important.’’

Pearlstine spoke about the decline of print and how technology and social media have presented new challenges for news consumption.

“We get the bulk of our revenue from print, and you start every January saying that if you’re lucky, the decline will be no more than 10%, but with the recognition that the decline of print revenue will be more than that,” Pearlstine said.

Stables asked Pearlstine about the role technology has played in transforming news distribution, specifically the role of podcasts in today’s media.

“I think it’s still early days for podcasts,” Pearlstine said. “It’s not clear to me what the model is long-term, but I think when you live in a part of the world where traffic defines your life, podcasts resonate.”

While Pearlstine said the news industry faces relentless pressure from digitalization, finances aren’t his only concern. 

“One of the reasons our country is so divided is I can spend all day communicating with people who have the same opinion as me,” Pearlstine said. “How do you maintain the integrity of your content in a world where most of the people who see your content have an intermediary, be it Facebook, Google, Twitter or Apple News, where everything they’re trying to do is to homogenize the feed where you don’t differentiate what we’re trying to do from what lots of other people are trying to do?”

When discussing the challenges of leading a newsroom, Pearlstine said it all starts with understanding the community.

“We begin by saying, ‘What does the brand of the L.A. Times give us license to do? What does the collective intelligence of the people enable us to do without the brand?’” he said.

Pearlstine expressed concern toward the reliance on social media as a news source and urged caution when balancing revenue and honest media coverage. 

“The brilliance of the ways that technology has changed information for the first time, choice really resides with the reader,” Pearlstein said. “At the same time if we’re doing our job, we will insight you with the things you didn’t know. It is important to get a combination of the two and that has never been harder.”

Felix Bartos, a graduate student studying global communication who attended the event, said he enjoyed learning about the changing face of the journalism industry and social media’s impact on news cycles.

“I liked how honest Pearlstine was with the insight he provided, but I would’ve liked to see more information about the competition the L.A. Times faces,” Bartos said. “But I think part of it is the nature of this type of discussion and that he couldn’t indulge too much into this information,” 

Luke Zapolski, a junior studying business, commended the Times for their local journalism coverage and digital accessibility.

“I think the L.A. Times has done a good job dealing with digitalization,” Zapolski said. “I access their news via their app, which has an extremely user friendly interface. I thought it was interesting to hear Norman’s comments on podcasts and I wonder if the L.A. Times will mass implement podcasts in the near future, as other media content producers and streaming services are moving into the space to add extra revenue streams.”