Hard hitting stuff from Rupert Murdoch talking to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Webcasting, BlogCasting, Podcasting, VideoCasting...
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 news industry.
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 traditional ways.
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.
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 forward.
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 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. 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.
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 happened.
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.
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 website.
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.
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 journalists.
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.