How do you see the media industry progressing in the future?
It’s easy to be pessimistic about the media industry. Barely a day goes by when someone, usually online, declares the death of newspapers, or magazines or free-to-air TV. There’s always a ‘new paradigm’ coming, something that will render the old media dinosaurs extinct. With respect, such doomsayers are wrong on two counts: there is little sign the old media – though facing many challenges – is losing its influence over the news agenda; and the media industry itself is not dying but evolving. It’s how we in the media handle that evolution that will determine the future of the industry.
I am optimistic about the future of the industry, particularly the future of what I’ll call ‘quality journalism’.
There is no doubt that there is a multitude of media ‘voices’ that consumers can turn to for their news. Newspapers, the hourly radio updates and the evening news bulletins no longer hold an oligopoly over the news day. Consumers can get their news 24/7 from the internet – from reputable news outlets and less reliable websites and blogs, from Twitter and Facebook and their peers. They can tailor their news feeds. They can become their own editors, choosing their news sources and filtering out the voices they don’t want to hear.
But the vast majority of the news that is flashed around the globe – dissected, debated and distributed over the internet – originates at an ‘old media’ organisation. The biggest generators of news remain newspapers – in print and online – followed by television and radio broadcasters. News is broken everywhere – WikiLeaks is an enormous source of news, for better or worse – but the majority of news comes out of the big newsrooms at newspapers and broadcasters. At The Australian alone, we have more than 300 journalists, spread around the nation
and overseas. We strive to lead the news agenda in the country – to break the best news – and usually succeed. We strive to encourage and influence the national debate – and usually succeed.
The old media outlets remain the most trusted sources of news. When big events happen – earthquakes, terror attacks – consumers flock to the newspapers (in print and online) and to the broadcast media. They may get their news from myriad sources but they know who to trust when it counts.
That all gives me confidence for the future of quality journalism – the kind we practice at The Australian. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adapt to consumers’ changing needs. We need to be everywhere our consumers want us to be – in print, online, on mobiles, on tablets. We need to be lively and responsive as news breaks and develops during the 24-hour cycle. We need to be informative – but also engaging and entertaining. Somewhat crudely, we also have to make sure we can make enough money to continue investing in our journalism. And that is a real
Newspapers and media outlets that don’t adapt, that don’t produce unique news content, will fail. Media outlets that don’t invest in journalism, that think they can attract and retain consumers with gimmicks and slick websites rather than genuine, quality content, will fail. Consumers won’t come back for gimmicks – the internet is full of them and the next shiny thing is just around the corner – they will come back if the news is trusted and relevant to them.
There will be rationalisation among outlets but the media industry itself will continue to grow and The Australian believes it has the right strategy to survive and thrive.
What is your biggest hope for this industry moving forward?
My hope is that consumers continue to recognise, value and enjoy quality journalism. That will take effort on our part. With so many news sources, we have high expectations to live up to if we expect people to keep returning to our newspapers in print and online.
I hope the media sector continues to flourish. I don’t think we should be frightened of the low barriers to entry for new media outlets – anyone can set up a blog. We should embrace diversity and the variety of voices. We should welcome any investment in journalism, any investment in new jobs and sources of news. But we should robustly promote the value of quality journalism and its trusted voices.
How do you think paid content will affect the industry? What are the consequences if paid content doesn’t work in Australia?
The introduction of paid content is a significant step in the Australian media market. But it’s not a revolution. There are functioning models of paid content overseas – most notably the Wall Street Journal, on which we are basing our paid content model – and in Australia with outlets such as The Australian Financial Review and even the Crikey website. There are consumers willing to pay for unique or relevant news and we believe we have the kind of compelling content that will be valuable to a core group of readers.
We recognise it’s a challenge convincing readers to pay for something they have been receiving for free. (It’s glib but I have chuckled at the line: “Your 10-year free trial is over.”) But our committed readers are prepared to pay $1.70 a day for the newspaper and our take-up of paid apps on the iPad has been really encouraging. We are committed to delivering value to our readers with breaking news, deep analysis, audio and video content and, above all, agenda-setting journalism that will be available as premium content only to our paying subscribers. Our ‘freemium’ model – with some content available for free on our website – will also help attract enough volume to the site to make it valuable for advertisers. In the premium section, advertisers will find our most committed and engaged readers.
What are you most concerned about when considering the future of journalism?
The economics of quality journalism are my biggest concern. Good journalism is expensive journalism. I don’t want to live in a world where news is commoditised and controlled by the army of spin-merchants in politics and business. That would be an enormous shame for me, as a journalist, and for the nation.