My blog has moved!

You should be automatically redirected in 6 seconds. If not, visit
and update your bookmarks.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We're moving from news papers to news brands, says Rupert Murdoch

This is an edited version of Rupert Murdoch's Boyer Lecture, The Future of Newspapers: Moving Beyond Dead Trees.

TOO many journalists seem to take a perverse pleasure in ruminating on their pending demise. I know industries that are today facing stiff new competition from the internet: banks, retailers, phone companies and so on. But these sectors also see the internet as an extraordinary opportunity. But among our journalistic friends are some misguided cynics who are too busy writing their own obituary to be excited by the opportunity.

Self-pity is never pretty. And sometimes it even starts in journalism school, some of which are perpetuating the pessimism of their tribal elders. But I have a very different view.

Unlike the doom and gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights. In the 21st century, people are hungrier for information than ever. And they have more sources of information than ever.

Amid these many diverse and competing voices, readers want what they've always wanted: a source they can trust. That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future.

If you discuss the future with newspapermen, you will find that too many think that our business is only physical newspapers. I like the look and feel of newsprint as much as anyone. But our real business isn't printing on dead trees. It's giving our readers great journalism and great judgment.

It's true that in the coming decades the printed versions of some newspapers will lose circulation. But if papers provide readers with news they can trust, we'll see gains in circulation: on our web pages, through our RSS feeds, in emails delivering customised news and advertising, to mobile phones.

In short, we are moving from news papers to news brands. For all of my working life, I have believed that there is a social and commercial value in delivering accurate news and information in a cheap and timely way. In this coming century, the form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over.

The news business is very personal for me. For more than a half century, newspapers have been at the heart of my business. If I am sceptical about the pessimists today, it's because of a simple reason: I have heard their morose soothsaying many times before.

The challenges are real. There will probably never be a paperless office, but young people are starting paperless homes. Traditional sources of revenue -- such as classifieds -- are drying up, putting pressure on the business model. And journalists face new competition from alternative sources of news and information.

So we have a steady stream of stories such as The Economist covers declaring that "newspapers are now an endangered species". That's quite ironic coming from a successful and growing magazine that likes to describe itself as "a newspaper".

My summary of the way some of the established media has responded to the internet is this: it's not newspapers that might become obsolete. It's some of the editors, reporters and proprietors who are forgetting a newspaper's most precious asset: the bond with its readers.

When I was growing up, this was the key lesson my father impressed on me. If you were an owner, the best thing you could do was to hire editors who looked out for your readers' interests and gave these readers good, honest reporting on issues that mattered most to them. In return, you would be rewarded with trust and loyalty you could take to the bank.

Over many decades in newspapers, I have been privileged to witness history being made and printed almost every night. Today I'd like to talk about what these experiences have taught me and why they give me confidence about the future.

My intent is to use my experience to illuminate the way we need to respond to the two most serious challenges facing newspapers today. The first is the competition that is coming from new technology, especially the internet.

The more serious challenge is the complacency and condescension that festers at the heart of some newsrooms. The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted.

The condescension that many show their readers is an even bigger problem. It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception.

I became an editor and owner well before I had planned. It happened when my father died and I was called home from Oxford. That was how I found myself a newspaper proprietor at the age of 22.

I was so young and so new to the business, when I pulled my car into the lot on my firstday, the garage attendant admonished me, "Hey, sonny, you can't park here."

That paper was (Adelaide's) The News. Its newsroom was a noisy place. But it was noise with purpose. The chattering and pounding of typewriter keys reached a crescendo in the minutes before a deadline that was stretched beyond breaking point by gun reporters determined to get the latest, freshest version of a story.

That background music created an urgency all of its own. When the presses began to run, everyone in the building felt the rumble. And when the presses were late, the journalists felt me rumble.

READERS want news as much as they ever did. Today The Times of London is read by a diverse global audience of 26 million people each month. That is an audience larger than the entire population of Australia, an audience whose sheer size is beyond the comprehension and ambitions of its founders in 1785.

That single statistic tells you that there is a discerning audience for news. The operative word is discerning. To compete today, you can't offer the old one-size-fits-all approach to news.

The defining digital trend in content is the increasing sophistication of search. You can already customise your news flow, whether by country, company or subject.

A decade from now, the offerings will be even more sophisticated. You will be able to satisfy your unique interests and search for unique content.

After all, a female university student in Malaysia is not going to have the same interests as a 60-year-old Manhattan executive. Closer to home, your teenage son is not going to have the same interests as your mother. The challenge is to use a newspaper's brand while allowing readers to personalise the news for themselves, and then deliver it in the ways that they want.

This is what we are trying to do at The Wall Street Journal. The Journal has the advantage of having a very loyal readership -- a brand known for quality -- and editors who take the readers and their interests seriously. This helps explain why the Journal continues to defy industry trends.

Of the 10 largest papers in the US, the Journal is the only one to have grown its paid subscriptions last year.

At the same time, we intend to make our mark on the digital frontier. The Journal is already the only US newspaper that makes real money online.

One reason for this is a growing global demand for business news and for accurate news. Integrity is not just a characteristic of our company, it is a selling point.

One way we are planning to take advantage of online opportunities is by offering three tiers of content. The first will be the news that we put online free. The second will be available for those who subscribe to And the third will be a premium service, designed to give its customers the ability to customise high-end financial news and analysis from around the world.

In all we do, we're going to deliver it in ways that best fit our readers' preferences: on web pages they can access from home or work, on still-evolving inventions such as Amazon's Kindle (a wireless book reader), as well as on (mobile) phones or BlackBerrys.

I do not claim to have all the answers. Given the realities of modern technology, this very radio address can be sliced and digitally diced. It can be accessed in a day or a month or a decade. And I can rightly be held to account in perpetuity for the points on which I am proven wrong, as well as mocked for my inability to see just how much more different the world had become.

But I don't think I will be proven wrong on one point. The newspaper, or a very close electronic cousin, will always be around. It may not be thrown on your front doorstep the way it is today. But the thud it makes as it lands will continue to echo across society and the world.

Published in The Australian
Thanks to Adrian Monck for the link.

blog comments powered by Disqus