Rupert’s warning

Rupert’s warning

: Rupert Murdoch gave an important speech — and warning — to the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Washington today, telling them that papers are whistling in their own graveyard and recommending some solutions, including even blogs:

Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprintís obituary. Yet, as an industry, most of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent.

I have the text of the speech because — full disclosure — through a friend, I tried to help the person who was helping write the speech. So, yes, you’ll hear echoes of familiar themes in the speech. (Somebody just smashed me in email for linking to something without acknowledging I was quoted so I’ll add: I was flattered to be quoted in the speech.)

I was impressed to see Murdoch giving this warning to the nation’s august editors — and also impressed to see him embracing new ways to do things, including citizens’ media. He starts by acknowledging that he and the assembled sages aren’t the ones to reinvigorate news:

Like many of you, Iím a digital immigrant. I wasnít weaned on the web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralized world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few proprietors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives….

The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants ñ many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated — to apply a digital mindset to a set of challenges that we unfortunately have limited to no first-hand experience dealing with.

We need to realize that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from.

He quotes scary stats and conclusions from Merrill Brown’s excellent report for Carnegie.

What is happening right before us is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They donít want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They donít want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them whatís important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly donít want news presented as gospel.

Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle.

He uses blogs as the evidence of this and he then turns to newspapers’ reaction to this new world:

In the face of this revolution, however, weíve been slow to react. Weíve sat by and watched while our newspapers have gradually lost circulation. Where four out of every five Americans in 1964 read a paper every day, today, only half do. Among just younger readers, the numbers are even worse, as Iíve just shown.

I like his explanation of how this could happen even in the face of such Titanic market trends:

There are a number of reasons for our inertness in the face of this advance. First, for centuries, newspapers as a medium enjoyed a virtual information monopoly ñ roughly from the birth of the printing press to the rise of radio. We never had a reason to second-guess what we were doing. Second, even after the advent of television, a slow but steady decline in readership was masked by population growth that kept circulations reasonably intact. Third, even after absolute circulations started to decline in the 1990s, profitability did not.

But those days are gone. The trends are against us.

So unless we awaken to these changes, and adapt quickly, we will, as an industry, be relegated to the status of also-rans or, worse, many of us will disappear altogether.

He scolds the editors for not taking full advantage of the internet:

We have not, as an industry, embraced digital technology and the Internet in the way Ö or to the extent Ö that we should, and must….

I venture to say that not one newspaper represented in this room lacks a website. Yet how many of us can honestly say that we are taking maximum advantage of those websites to serve our readers, to strengthen our businesses, or to meet head-on what readers increasingly say is important to them in receiving their news?

Murdoch says he is optimistic about the news business because the public, including the young, want news.

The challenge, however, is to deliver that news in ways consumers want to receive it. Before we can apply our competitive advantages, we have to free our minds of our prejudices and predispositions, and start thinking like our newest consumers. In short, we have to answer this fundamental question: What do we ñ a bunch of digital immigrants — need to do to be relevant to the digital natives?

He says these new natives want news on demand, they want news to be relevant, they want a point of view (hello, FoxNews), they want news that affects their lives, they want the option to get more information and points of view, and they want to join in the debate. Make “they” “we.”

He talks about Fox and FoxNews and the tabloidization of British papers as responses to audience demand. He doesn’t make the further point that I think needs to be made: That FoxNews, with its new way to turn news into conversation and rely less on expensive produced pieces, represented an economic restructuring of the TV news business and (a) that ain’t over and (b) the print news business needs just that sort of restructuring. He also says that newspapers need to be destinations; I disagree and think they need to be waystations, starting points, perhaps.

And then he goes to the blogs:

But our internet site will have to do still more to be competitive. For some, it may have to become the place for conversation. The digital native doesnít send a letter to the editor anymore. She goes online, and starts a blog. We need to be the destination for those bloggers. We need to encourage readers to think of the web as the place to go to engage our reporters and editors in more extended discussions about the way a particular story was reported or researched or presented.

At the same time, we may want to experiment with the concept of using bloggers to supplement our daily coverage of news on the net. There are of course inherent risks in this strategy — chief among them maintaining our standards for accuracy and reliability. Plainly, we canít vouch for the quality of people who arenít regularly employed by us ñ and bloggers could only add to the work done by our reporters, not replace them. But they may still serve a valuable purpose; broadening our coverage of the news; giving us new and fresh perspectives to issues; deepening our relationship to the communities we serve. So long as our readers understand the distinction between bloggers and our journalists, and so long as proper safeguards are utilized, this might be an idea worth exploring.

To carry this one step further, some digital natives do even more than blog with text ñ they are blogging with audio, specifically through the rise of podcasting ñ and to remain fully competitive, some may want to consider providing a place for that as well.

And with the growing proliferation of broadband, the emphasis online is shifting from text only to text with video. The future is soon upon us in this regard.

Next, he turns to advertising:

Someone whom I respect a great deal, Bill Gates, said recently that the Internet would attract $30 billion in advertising revenue annually within the next five years. To give you some perspective, this would equal the entire advertising revenue currently generated each year by the newspaper industry as a whole.

He acknowledges the lasting decline in classifieds and says that newspaper companies have to come up with new ways to better target advertising (no more one-size-fits-all, in other words).

He says that technology isn’t the problem. Attitude is.

What I worry about much more is our ability to make the necessary cultural changes to meet the new demands of the digital native. I said earlier, what is required is a complete transformation of the way we think about our product and the Internet itself. Unfortunately, however, I believe too many of us editors and reporters are out of touch with our readers. Too often, the question we ask is ìDo we have the story?î rather than ìDoes anyone want the story?î

And the data support this unpleasant truth. Studies show weíre in an odd position: Weíre more trusted by the people who arenít reading us. And when you ask journalists what they think about their readers, the picture grows darker. According to one recent study, the percentage of national journalists who have a great deal of confidence in the ability of the American public to make good decisions has declined by more than 20 points since 1999. Perhaps this reflects their personal politics and personal prejudices more than anything else, but it is disturbing.

This is a polite way of saying that reporters and editors think their readers are stupid. …

Newspapers whose employees look down on their readers can have no hope of ever succeeding as a business.

The next question will be: Who’s listening?

: Here’s E&P’s coverage. The FT’s coverage (behind a damned pay wall). From Australia’s The Age.

Here’s the full text of the speech.

  • jim

    You have become something sad and distasteful, Jarvis.

  • nellie

    Jarvis quotes Murdoch quoting Jarvis – hilarious.

  • so Jeff, why did Rupert leave out your most important line, “We are fools if by the end of the 2005 each of our websites don’t have at least one blog for breaking, continuing, and developing stories”?
    the way he talks about bloggers, it almost makes me think that he thinks of them(us) as interns or PAs or some shit.

  • And I am reading this and just came off a site talking about visiting a food processing plant where our listeners are more and more located:
    “You jackasses sit back for a minute and consider yourselves fortunate, if you can. I laughed at how I was paid $40/hr to drive down the road plus mileage when I get like 40 mpg and my car is paid for. Then I talk to a guy who makes $30-40k and works a job that causes him physical pain. I bitch that my stocks are doing poorly…I have stocks! I try to not-eat food that I have easy access to. I spend time exhausting my body to make it even better, because my life places no physical demands on me. I look around today and I just feel so blessed with all I have. I’m one lucky fucker, hard-work aside.”
    We’re worried about who listens to what on an ipod? I think there’s a problem developing here.

  • Dishman

    Nice work, Jeff, both in setting it up and in summarizing.

  • It’s kind of fun watching everyone squirm.
    I remember back in about 1998, having a couple of bigwigs from the big nearby newspaper (part of big group of newspapers) come to my little, regional magazine where I was editor. They told me that I could have the “opportunity” to put all my content on their website, and they would only charge me a small amount for that privilege.
    My publisher nearly fell out of her chair. No, we didn’t do the deal.
    But Jeff, why do you think these newspaper guys are any different now? And why on earth would I want to be a “citizen-blogger” to help Rupert Murdoch, or Knight-Ridder, or any of them make a pile of money? Oh lucky me, I get to work for free while they get rich, just for the joy of informing the public? I can do that without them. It’s already happening without them. Truth is, they’re going to have pay us. Or leave us alone and go down by themselves.

  • Who says you work for free? Part of this deal has to be that you share in the revenue, I think. Once there is revenue, of course…
    (And that’s not how I remember the deal from the old days…. It was a revenue share, I believe.)

  • dries

    Murdoch is a smart guy & a savvy businessman, but his sagacity will be lost on all who know him only as a guy who owns Fox.

  • Isn’t memory a wonderful thing? The older I get, the easier it is to distort. Yes, you might be right about the revenue sharing business…But my story was better, don’t you think?

  • In any case, I’d blame my colleague, who is now off running an ad agency in Oregon. He was the evil money guy. You and I were the clueless editors.
    (And for those who are missing this little side drama. Jenny’s talking about a long-long ago meeting in deepest, darkest Jersey.)

  • Mark

    What surprises me the most is that it has taken this long for even the most clueless of newspaper people to “wake up.” That Rupert Murdoch has to say it at ASNE is even worse.
    The whistling by the graveyard description is apt. I don’t know anything about your deep Jersey meetings specifically, but I do if we’re talking generally (i.e., media-world-central NYC/NJ/MA).
    The big pubs will, if they are able, co-opt the little bloggers. It’s up to the bloggers to ignore the short-term gain to find the long-term riches.
    I submit this post respectfully and humbly for any and all who disagree or agree. It’s just my thoughts having seen things from a few different angles.

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    OK, I don’t get it. why was my comment removed? I don’t give my real e-mail to avoid spammers who pick such things up, but I did give my web site if anyone wants to know who I am. So I’m banned because I link to my blog? gimme a break.
    Anyway, the Rocky Mountain News just announced it is doing something close to what we’re talking about. I had missed it until now:,1299,DRMN_86_3687699,00.html

  • I didn’t remove any comment.
    Some odd words aren’t allowed because of f’ing spam (e.g. s o c i a l i s m has within it the name of a certain advertised drug).

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    Wow. It was a serious post. The only thing I can think of are the words “hack reporter” or hack journalist. I also used some dirty words like “sell ads,” “subscriptions,” “interact,” and “message board.” The phrase that probably got me in trouble was “give reporters incentives to interact with readers.” Too capitalistic, I guess. And I didn’t make a copy of the post. So my url is banned forever?

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    YOu publish Fast Company? I think they banned my www. businessword .com because I mocked their blog for entering a contest for blogs that I thought was silly. Can you unblock it? I used to post on their blog, but gave up when I found they are traditional editors who insist on politically correct comments. Sad commentary on msm blogs.

  • Does a book exist if nobody reads it?
    “Student: I searched really hard for this topic and didn’t find much. Are you sure it even exists outside of class?
    Me: Really, I’m sure the math library [right down the hall] has several books on the topic.
    Student: Oh, I just used Google.”

  • At the heart of the News Corp. strategy must be the elimination of barriers between their business and consumers, the elimination (or dramatic reorganisation) of the supply chain, the growth of the online model while protecting revenues as much as possible from physical product as much as possible.
    The giant is interesting, but new models by those new to media and information is even more so.

  • Donald E.L. Johnson:
    this was most likely not intentional. JJ doesn’t censor much, and when it doesn’t meet the automatic standards, you will be told it isn’t correct and given a chance to correct it. Make sure you weren’t running out of time – you may need to write your comment out in another program, copy and insert it in the comment section, then be sure you 1) PREVIEW and 2) POST. Happens to all of us sometimes.

  • Donald E. L. Johnson

    Thanks, Jeff and Ruth. When I preview and try to post, I get “Your comment could not be submmitted due to questionable content: businessword .com, which is my url. It’s also blocked in this comment, which I fixed by putting a space in the name. So I give my e-mail and businessword .com is blocked again.
    Well, you ask for my url, I give it and I’m banned. Don’t have this problem on other blogs or boards. Can you see why my url is being blocked?
    thanks again.