Peter Barron: Journalism 'underplayed tech revolution'

• The public, not Google, will decide the fate of the mainstream media
• Taxing Google to support newspaper industry is ‘pretty extraordinary’
• ‘If you go into journalism to change the world, you’re slightly misguided’

The mainstream media must learn to embrace the ‘technological revolution’ if they are to survive the recession and beyond, according to former Newsnight editor turned Google press chief Peter Barron.

Speaking at a media lecture at Coventry University, Google’s head of PR for the UK and Ireland said journalism had “undercooked and underplayed the biggest revolution in the history of revolutions”.

Barron – who left Newsnight last July – discussed the pace of change in digital media, and the increasing role Google has played in making news and information available.

He was critical of the French government’s “pretty extraordinary” efforts to “hold back” Google by taxing the internet giant in an effort to help the country’s ailing newspaper industry.

Barron argued that Google in no way posed a threat to mainstream media but that it merely gave consumers what they wanted.

And he said it would ultimately be the public who determined the fate of the British press and broadcasting industry.

“Consumer behaviour is a threat to the mainstream media, because the technological revolution has changed everything,” Barron told students.

“Clearly that revolution has had a disruptive effect on the media landscape.”

Shrinking newspapers

Barron added: “We are seeing newspapers really suffering, TV too with ITV and Channel 4 finding it hard to compete in the current climate.

“The real point needing to be made is whether TV and newspapers are going to be here in 20, 30, or 40 years time. I’m pretty sure they are, but probably in a slightly different form.

“It’s fair to say that the number of newspapers in the UK is going to shrink.

“The ones who have ridden the wave – the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Daily Mail, even – are the ones going to survive and prosper.”

From journalism to PR

Barron said that after four years at Newsnight he had been happy to move on to a new job, despite his successful working relationship with Jeremy Paxman and the rest of the team.

He said moving was “the right and proper thing to do as Google was as good a place as any to work” and added that he had no regrets about switching from journalism to public relations.

“Learning how Google works has been a huge experience,” Barron said.

“I’m a big fan of journalism, and wouldn’t knock it for a second, but if you go into journalism in order to change the world, you are slightly misguided.

“It’s a different job, but some things are not dissimilar – you have a team, you dream up ideas, and you try and make them work.

“It’s not a million miles away from what I was doing in television.”

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