But as I stand before this esteemed group of editors today,
I’m reminded of something Mark Twain once wrote to a friend:
“How often we recall, with regret, that napoleon once shot
at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a
publisher……. But we remember with charity, that his
intentions were good.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I come before you today with the best
of intentions. My subject is one near and dear to all of us:
the role of newspapers in this digital age.
Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new
technologies are fast writing newsprint’s obituary. Yet, as
an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably
complacent. Certainly, I didn’t do as much as I should have
after all the excitement of the late 1990’s. I suspect many
of you in this room did the same, quietly hoping that this
thing called the digital revolution would just limp along.
Well it hasn’t … it won’t …. And it’s a fast developing
reality we should grasp as a huge opportunity to improve our
journalism and expand our reach.
I come to this discussion not as an expert with all the
answers, but as someone searching for answers to an emerging
medium that is not my native language. Like many of you in
this room, I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t 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 editors, who deemed to tell us
what we could and should know. My two young daughters, on
the other hand, will be digital natives. They’ll never know
a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access.
The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants –
many of whom are in positions to determine how news is
assembled and disseminated — to apply a digital mindset to
a new set of challenges.
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.
Anyone who doubts this should read a recent report by the
Carnegie Corporation about young people’s changing habits of
news consumption and what they mean for the future of the
According to this report, and I quote, “There’s a dramatic
revolution taking place in the news business today, and it
isn’t about TV anchor changes, scandals at storied
newspapers or embedded reporters.” The future course of
news, says the study’s author, Merrill Brown, is being
altered by technology-savvy young people no longer wedded to
traditional news outlets or even accessing news in
Instead, as the study illustrates, consumers between the
ages of 18-34 are increasingly using the web as their medium
of choice for news consumption. While local TV news remains
the most accessed source of news, the internet, and more
specifically, internet portals, are quickly becoming the
favored destination for news among young consumers.
44 percent of the study’s respondents said they use a portal
at least once a day for news, as compared to just 19 percent
who use a printed newspaper on a daily basis. More
ominously, looking out three years, the study found that 39
percent expected to use the internet more to learn about the
news, versus only 8 percent who expected to use traditional
And their attitudes towards newspapers are especially
alarming. Only 9 percent describe us as trustworthy, a scant
8 percent find us useful, and only 4 percent of respondents
think we’re entertaining. Among major news sources, our
beloved newspaper is the least likely to be the preferred
choice for local, national or international news going
What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way
young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on
the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They
don’t want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell
them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a
bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as
Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for
They want control over their media, instead of being
controlled by it.
They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle.
Think about how blogs and message boards revealed that
Kryptonite bicycle locks were vulnerable to a Bic pen. Or
the Swiftboat incident. Or the swift departure of Dan Rather
from CBS. One commentator, Jeff Jarvis, puts it this way:
give the people control of media, they will use it. Don’t
give people control of media, and you will lose them.
In the face of this revolution, however, we’ve been slow to
react. We’ve sat by and watched while our newspapers have
gradually lost circulation. We all know of great and
expensive exceptions to this – but the technology is now
moving much faster than in the past.
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 I’ve just shown.
One writer, Philip Meyer, has even suggested in his book The
Vanishing Newspaper that looking at today’s declining
newspaper readership – and continuing that line, the last
reader recycles the last printed paper in 2040 – April,
2040, to be exact.
There are a number of reasons for our inertia in the face of
this advance. First, newspapers as a medium for centuries
enjoyed a virtual information monopoly – 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. Fast
search engines and targeted advertising as well as
editorial, all increase the electronic attractions by a
factor of 3 or 4. And at least four billion dollars a year
is going into R&D to further improve this process.
So unless we awaken to these changes, which are quite
different to those of 5 or 6 years ago, we will, as an
industry, be relegated to the status of also-rans. But,
properly done, they are an opportunity to actually improve
our journalism and expand our reach.
For those who are confronting this new reality, we tend to
focus on the technological challenge, which is
understandable, since it is one we believe – or hope – that
we can do something about.
Thinking back to the challenge that television posed to the
newspaper business, we can see some similarities. A new
technology comes along, and like many new things, it is
somewhat exciting at first, simply by virtue of being new.
Like the advent of radio before it, television was always
going to be at best an alternative way to get the news, and
at worst a direct competitor. There was no way to make it a
part, or even a partner, of the paper.
That is manifestly not true of the internet. And all of our
papers are living proof. 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
Despite this, I’m still confident of our future, both in
print and via electronic delivery platforms. The data may
show that young people aren’t reading newspapers as much as
their predecessors, but it doesn’t show they don’t want
news. In fact, they want a lot of news, just faster news of
a different kind and delivered in a different way.
And we in this room – newspaper editors and journalists –
are uniquely positioned to deliver that news. We have the
experience, the brands, the resources, and the know-how to
get it done. We have unique content to differentiate
ourselves in a world where news is becoming increasingly
commoditized. And most importantly, we have a great new
partner to help us reach this new consumer — the internet.
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 – a bunch of digital
immigrants — need to do to be relevant to the digital
Probably, just watch our teenage kids.
What do they want to know, and where will they go to get it?
They want news on demand, continuously updated. They want a
point of view about not just what happened, but why it
They want news that speaks to them personally, that affects
their lives. They don’t just want to know how events in the
Mid-east will affect the presidential election; they want to
know what it will mean at the gas-pump. They don’t just want
to know about terrorism, but what it means about the safety
of their subway line, or whether they’ll be sent to Iraq.
And they want the option to go out and get more information,
or to seek a contrary point of view.
And finally, they want to be able to use the information in
a larger community – to talk about, to debate, to question,
and even to meet the people who think about the world in
similar or different ways.
Our print versions can obviously satisfy many of these
needs, and we at news corporation will continue to invest in
our printed papers so they remain an important part of our
reader’s daily lives. But our internet versions can do even
more, especially in providing virtual communities for our
readers to be linked to other sources of information, other
opinions, other like-minded people.
And to do that, we must challenge – and reformulate — the
conventions that so far have driven our online efforts.
At News Corporation, we have a history of challenging media
orthodoxies. Nearly twenty years ago, we created a fourth
broadcast network. What was behind that creation was a
fundamental questioning of the way people got their nightly
entertainment to that point. We weren’t constrained by the
news at six, primetime at eight, news again at 11 paradigm.
We weren’t constrained by the belief that entertainment had
to be geared to a particular audience, or reflect a certain
Instead, we shortened the primetime block to two hours,
pushed up the news by an hour, and programmed the network to
a younger-skewing audience. The result was the FOX Broadcast
Network, today America’s number one network among 18-49
Similarly, we sensed ten years ago that people watching
television news felt alienated by the monolithic
presentation of the news they were getting from the nightly
news broadcasts or cable networks. We sensed that there was
another way we could deliver that news – objectively,
fairly, and faster-paced. And the result was the fox news
channel, today America’s number one cable news network.
And most recently, at the The Times of London, circulation
decline was immediately reversed when we moved from a
broadsheet to what we call our “compact” edition. For nearly
a year, we offered readers both versions: same newspaper,
same stories, just different sizes. And they overwhelmingly
chose the compact version as more convenient. This is an
example of us listening to what our readers want, and then
upsetting a centuries old tradition to give them exactly
what they were asking for. And we did it all without
compromising the quality of our product.
In this spirit, we’re now turning to the internet. Today,
the newspaper is just a paper. Tomorrow, it can be a
Today, to the extent anyone is a destination, it’s the
internet portals: the Yahoos, Googles, and MSNs. I just saw
a report that showed Google News’s traffic increased 90
percent over the past year while the New York Times’
excellent website traffic decreased 23 percent. The
challenge for us – for each of us in this room – is to
create an internet presence that is compelling enough for
users to make us their home page. Just as people
traditionally started their day with coffee and the
newspaper, in the future, our hope should be that for those
who start their day online, it will be with coffee and our
To do this, though, we have to refashion what our web
presence is. It can’t just be what it too often is today: a
bland repurposing of our print content. Instead, it will
need to offer compelling and relevant content. Deep, deep
local news. Relevant national and international news.
Commentary and debate. Gossip and humor.
Some newspapers will invest sufficient resources to
continuously update the news, because digital natives don’t
just check the news in the morning – they check it
throughout the day. If my child played a little league
baseball game in the morning, it would be great to be able
to access the paper’s website in the afternoon to get a
summary of her game, maybe even accompanied by video
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 doesn’t 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 can’t vouch for the
quality of people who aren’t regularly employed by us – 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 clear distinction between bloggers and our
To carry this one step further, some digital natives do even
more than blog with text – they are blogging with audio,
specifically through the rise of podcasting – 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. Google and
Yahoo already are testing video search while other
established cable brands, including FOX News, are
accompanying their text news stories with video clips.
What this means for us as newspapers is the opportunity to
partner with credible video programmers to provide an
infinitely better product. More access to news; more
visually entertaining news and advertising product; deeper
and more penetrating coverage.
At News Corporation, where we’re both a video programmer as
well as a newspaper publisher, the rewards of getting this
right are enormous. We’ve spent billions of dollars
developing unique sports, news and general entertainment
programming. We have a library as rich as anyone in this
world. Our job now is to bring this content profitably into
the broadband world – to marry our video to our publishing
assets, and to garner our fair share – hopefully more than
our fair share — of the advertising dollars that will come
from successfully converging these media.
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 three years. To
give you some perspective, this would equal the entire
advertising revenue currently generated each year by the
newspaper industry as a whole. Of course, all of this could
not be new money. Whether Bill’s math is right is almost
beside the point. What is indisputable is the fact that more
and more advertising dollars are going on-line, and we must
be in a position to capture our fair share.
The threat of losing print advertising dollars to online
media is very real. In fact, it’s already happening,
particularly in classifieds. No one in this room is
oblivious to it. Television and radio and the yellow pages
are in the same spot.
In the same way we need to be relevant to our readers, the
internet provides the opportunity for us to be more relevant
to our advertisers. Plainly, the internet allows us to be
more granular in our advertising, targeting potential
consumers based on where they’ve surfed and what products
they’ve bought. The ability to more precisely target
customers using technology- powered forms of advertising
represents a great opportunity for us to maintain and even
grow market share and is clearly the future of advertising.
And the history of our industry shows that we can do this.
Technology has traditionally been an asset to the newspaper
business. It has in the past allowed us to improve our
printing, helped us collect and transmit the news faster and
cheaper – as well as reach people we never could reach
before. So of all the trials that face newspapers in the
21st century, I fear technology – and our response to it –
is by no means our only challenge.
What I worry about much more is our ability to make the
necessary cultural changes to meet the new demands. As I
said earlier, what is required is a complete transformation
of the way we think about our product. 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 “Do we have the story? rather than “Does anyone want
And the data support this unpleasant truth. Studies show
we’re in an odd position: we’re more trusted by the people
who aren’t 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. In any business, such an
attitude toward one’s customers would not be healthy. But in
the newspaper business, where we rely on people to come back
to us each day, it will be disastrous if not addressed.
As one study said: “Even if the economics of journalism work
themselves out, how can journalists work on behalf of a
public they are coming to see as less wise and less able?”
I’d put it more dramatically: newspapers whose employees
look down on their readers can have no hope of ever
succeeding as a business.
But by meeting the challenges I’ve raised, I’m confident we
will not only improve our chances for success in the online
world, but as importantly, improve our actual printed
Success in the online world will, I think, beget greater
success in the printed medium. By streamlining our
operations and becoming more nimble. By changing the way we
write and edit stories. By listening more intently to our
I do not underestimate the tests before us. We may never
become true digital natives, but we can and must begin to
assimilate to their culture and way of thinking. It is a
monumental, once-in-a-generation opportunity, but it is also
an exciting one, because if we’re successful, our industry
has the potential to reshape itself, and to be healthier
than ever before.