Guardian MD: Digital technology is 'smashing' traditional media

Traditional media business models are being “smashed” by a digital onslaught, despite the way online journalism has enhanced newspapers’ output, according to the managing director of Guardian News & Media.

Tim Brooks, who leads the parent company of the Guardian and the Observer, said that classified advertising was being eroded by the web and that falling national newspaper readership figures over the last 50 years made grim viewing.

He said digital technology was “smashing our business model and at the same time it is showing us journalistically some fantastic opportunities.”

Speaking last night at the closing session of the MediaGuardian Changing Media Summit, he was optimistic about advent of online video journalism. Brooks showed a clip of a film by Sean Smith, the Guardian photographer who won both an Emmy and a Royal Television Society Award for his series of short films about life with American troops in Iraq. Smith is also shortlisted for the Digital Journalist of the Year award at next month’s British Press Awards.

Brooks spoke of how the Manchester Guardian was set up in 1881 in response to the Peterloo Massacre and said: “I think what that clip shows is that digital technology allows us to fulfil that original purpose more vividly. We are very excited about this technology.”

On the decline of the newspaper industry, Brooks, who co-founded the lads’ magazine Nuts, cited data showing national daily circulation dropping from more than 50m in 1950 to around 23m now.

“What’s interesting about this revolution is that most people who work in the media say ‘well, that’s rubbish’… Colleagues from other newspapers often say that ‘print is not in decline’. I say, do you really think that or you just trying to keep this conversation cheerful? Digital media has an extraordinary power over traditional media.”

Brooks cited the buy-out of the radio group GCap Media, the falling share prices of companies like ITV and the sell-off of his former employer Emap as “symptoms of the fact that to be in an old media space at the moment is a very scary place to be.”

There was, however, some good news.

In 1993, he said, the group’s newspapers reached around 6m people every quarter. “That was the basis for our business. And then along came the internet and last month we reached 23m people, and now we’re trying to make a business out of that.” Brooks claimed that the same figure last September was 18m.

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