Journalism’s Future

The Economist writes about a speech given recently by Rupert Murdoch on the need for the newspaper industry to reinvent itself:

The decline of newspapers predates the internet. But the secondbroadbandgeneration of the internet is not only accelerating it but is also changing the business in a way that the previous rivals to newspapersradio and TVnever did. Older people, whom Mr Murdoch calls digital immigrants, may not have noticed, but young digital natives increasingly get their news from web portals such as Yahoo! or Google, and from newer web media such as blogs. Short for web logs, these are online journal entries of thoughts and web links that anybody can post. Whereas 56% of Americans haven’t heard of blogs, and only 3% read them daily, among the young they are standard fare, with 44% of online Americans aged 18-29 reading them often, according to a poll by CNN/USA Today/Gallup.

For today’s digital natives, says Mr Gillmor, it is anathema to be lectured at. Instead, they expect to be informed as part of an online dialogue. They are at once less likely to write a traditional letter to the editor, and more likely to post a response on the weband then to carry on the discussion. A letters page pre-selected by an editor makes no sense to them; spotting the best responses using the spontaneous voting systems of the internet does.

Even if established media groupssuch as Mr Murdoch’sstart to respond better to these changes, can they profit from them? Mr Murdoch says that some media firms, at least, will be able to navigate the transition as advertising revenue switches from print-based to electronic media. Indeed, this is one area where news providers can use technology to their advantage, by providing more targeted audiences for advertisers, both by interest group and location. He also thinks that video clips, which his firm can conveniently provide, will be crucial ingredients of online news.

But it remains uncertain what mix of advertising revenue, tips and subscriptions will fund the news providers of the future, and how large a role today’s providers will have. What is clear is that the control of newswhat constitutes it, how to prioritise it and what is factis shifting subtly from being the sole purview of the news provider to the audience itself. Newspapers, Mr Murdoch implies, must learn to understand their role as providers of news independent of the old medium of distribution, the paper.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.