Rupert Murdoch has dismissed the suggestion that newspapers are a dying breed, but the global medial mogul says the ideas of some editors and journalists are obsolete in the digital age.
Murdoch, whose News Corporation empire includes The Australian, The Times and The Wall Street Journal, says media companies, like other businesses, face new competition from the internet.
But while other industries see the web as a potential boon, “among our journalistic friends are some misguided cynics who are too busy writing their own obituary to be excited by the opportunity”.
“Unlike the doom-and-gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights,” Murdoch said in his third Boyer lecture for the ABC.
The veteran newsman said that people were hungrier for information than ever before, and that newspapers could provide a trusted source of information amid the clatter of competing voices.
“The newspaper, or a very close electronic cousin, will always be around,” he said.
But Murdoch, whose publications extend from Australia and the Pacific to Britain and the US and who also controls the Fox News Channel, said too many in the industry saw the business as one of 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,” he said.
Murdoch said that while the printed versions of some newspapers will lose circulation, there would be gains in other areas such as websites and emails delivering customised news and advertising.
“We are moving from newspapers 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,” he said.
“In this coming century, the form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over.”
Murdoch, who was 22 when he inherited his first newspaper in Australia, acknowledged that traditional sources of revenue such as classified ads were drying up, but refused to accept that papers would die.
“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,” he said.
He said the two most serious challenges facing newspapers were competition from new technology and “the complacency and condescension that festers at the heart of some newsrooms”.
“It used to be that a handful of editors could decide what was news – and what was not,” he said. “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.”
Murdoch criticised journalists for what he described as their “fetish” for awards.
He said some newspapers ran stories reflecting their own interests and for fellow journalists rather than what was relevant to readers, and some editors commissioned stories for the sole purpose of trying to win an award.
“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,” he said.
“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.”