A spiegare che succederà nel futuro del giornalismo ci voleva Rupert Murdoch che di mestiere fa l’editore, che non è per niente amato dai suoi giornalisti, ma che ha le idee chiarissime sul futuro dell’informazione (e non si può che dargli ragione) Trascrizione del suo intervento da Vittorio Zambardino
Today I would like to talk with you about a subject that always gets certain journalists going: the future of newspapers, and it’s a subject that has a relevance far beyond the feverish, sometimes insecure collection of egos and energy that is the journalistic profession.
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 before. And they have more sources of information than ever before.
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 like The Economist cover 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 give 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 first day, the garage attendant admonished me, ‘Hey, sonny, you can’t park here.’
That paper was The Adelaide 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.
When I took over the News, The Adelaide Advertiser was the dominant paper in town. Its owners tried to get my mother to sell to them. They sent her a letter basically saying that if she didn’t accept their offer, they were going to put the News out of business. We responded by printing their letter on the front page of the News.
The result was a good old-fashioned stoush—a newspaper war. It cost a great deal. But it taught me that with good editors and a loyal readership, you can challenge better-heeled and more established rivals—and succeed. And we did.
A decade later, there was another test: creating Australia’s first national paper. That might not sound like a big deal today. But it was back in the 1960s, when the country was only barely linked by phone lines. Our plan was to start a paper in Canberra, build it, and then take it national.
If the technological challenges were not daunting enough, our competitors got wind of our plans. As soon as they did, they transformed the existing paper—The Canberra Times—into a pretty impressive broadsheet. By doing that, they hoped to grab readers and advertisers before we could even get off the ground. There was only one way to respond: we would have to go national almost two years ahead of schedule.
Today, of course, even the smallest Australian newspaper has a web page that you can log in to from Cairns to Caracas. But back then, we didn’t even have reliable fax lines. Instead, we had to fly the printing plates from Canberra to presses elsewhere in the country—usually late at night. We even started up our own airline to do it.
It was all complex, and of course, things did not always go to plan. But it was also exhilarating. The result was that we brought readers across Australia a better product, and helped transform Australian journalism.
All this was excellent preparation for the next big fight we had: the opening of our new presses at Wapping in England.
For those who are too young to remember those daunting days, let me give you some perspective. Back in the mid-1980s, British papers were essentially run by their unions, and these unions resisted all improvements.
These were not unions acting on behalf of the working class, but a cosy, corrupt closed shop. Some of the names that drew pay cheques didn’t even exist. Our payroll showed that cheques were being sent to people like M. Mouse and D. Duck—neither of whom paid income tax.
At a time when new printing technology was making other papers around the world more efficient, newspapers in Britain were forced to rely on a technology that had not changed much since Gutenberg’s Bible. The costs were destroying hundreds of jobs and crippling what is now the world’s most vibrant newspaper market.
This was not sustainable in the long run. The columnist Bernard Levin described Fleet Street this way: ‘Conditions which combined a protection racket with a lunatic asylum.’
We decided to change that. We bought new, state of the art presses, installed them at a site in Wapping, and found good people to run them.
In the end, it was expensive. There was terrible violence, especially against the police. Those workers who chose to fight us expected that management would roll over as so many managements had in the past. And for a few weeks, we were literally under siege by people intent on damaging our presses, hurting our people, and killing our business.
But we had planned well, and we prevailed. Our victory helped make all British newspapers more profitable. And of course this meant better wages and a brighter future for their employees.
Today the challenge we face is different. In some ways, it is a direct attack on our judgment.
It used to be that a handful of editors could decide what was news—and what was not. They acted as sort of demigods. If they ran a story, it became news. If they ignored an event, it never happened.
Today editors are losing this power. The internet, for example, provides access to thousands of new sources that cover things an editor might ignore. And if you aren’t satisfied with that, you can start up your own blog and cover and comment on the news yourself.
Journalists like to think of themselves as watchdogs, but they haven’t always responded well when the public calls them to account.
When Dan Rather broadcast his story suggesting President Bush had evaded service during his days in the National Guard, bloggers quickly exposed the dubious nature of his sources and documents.
Far from celebrating this citizen journalism, the establishment media reacted defensively. During an appearance on Fox News, a CBS executive attacked the bloggers in a statement that will go down in the annals of arrogance.
‘60 Minutes,’ he said, was a professional organisation with ‘multiple layers of checks and balances.’ By contrast, he dismissed the blogger as ‘a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing.’ But eventually it was the guys sitting in their pajamas who forced Mr Rather and his producer to resign.
Mr. Rather and his defenders are not alone. A recent American study reported that many editors and reporters simply do not trust their readers to make good decisions. Let’s be clear about what this means. This is a polite way of saying that these editors and reporters think their readers are too stupid to think for themselves.
By taking their audience for granted and allowing themselves to become as institutionalised as any government or company they write about, these journalists are threatening their own papers. It is simply extraordinary that so many who are privileged to sit in the front row and write the first account of history could be so immune to its obvious meaning—not to mention the consequences for their own industry.
Let me give you an example. Four years ago The Times of London was going through a difficult time in circulation. So we experimented with changing from a broadsheet to what we call a ‘compact’ version. For almost a year, we printed two versions of The Times—each with the same photos, the same headlines, and the same stories.
By an overwhelming margin, readers preferred the new, compact version. So we adopted that version , reversed our decline in circulation, and helped put The Times on a more solid footing, which of course is the key to keeping jobs. And we did it without affecting the quality of the news.
You might think our experience with The Times would be a good lesson about responding to what readers want, and keeping a newspaper relevant and viable. But that’s not what most journalists wrote about. Instead, they offered a lot of hand-wringing about tradition—and sentimental laments for a format that most Times readers no longer cared for.
I see the same thing every day. Instead of finding stories that are relevant to their readers’ lives, papers run stories reflecting their own interests. Instead of writing for their audience, they are writing for their fellow journalists. And instead of commissioning stories that will gain them readers, some editors commission stories whose sole purpose is the quest for a prize.
When I started out in the business, anyone who dared parade a prize for excellence would have been hooted out of the newsroom for taking himself too seriously. But today the desire for awards has become a fetish. Papers may be losing money, losing circulation, and laying off people left and right. But they will have a wall full of awards—prisoners of the past rather than enthusiasts for the future.
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 now 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 interest seriously.
This helps explain why the journal continues to defy industry trends. Of the ten largest papers in the United States, 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 for free. The second will be available for those who subscribe to wsj.com. 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 like Amazon’s kindle as well as on cell phones or blackberries.
In the end, we are left with where we began: the bond of trust between readers and their paper. Much has changed since I walked into the Adelaide News in 1954. Presses have never been faster or more flexible. We have computers that allow you to lay out multiple pages in multiple countries. We have faster distribution. But none of it will mean anything for newspapers unless we meet our first responsibility: earning the trust and loyalty of our readers.
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 around society and the world.
Thank you for listening.