Global media magnate Rupert Murdoch said pessimists who predict the internet will kill off newspapers were “misguided cynics” failing to grasp that the online world is a potentially huge new market of information-hungry customers.
Newspaper companies in the US and elsewhere are facing fundamental changes to their businesses as more people get their news from the internet and other sources, and advertisers follow the market away from the paper-and-ink format.
Murdoch, the Australian-born chairman and chief executive of News Corp said in a speech titled: “The Future of Newspapers: Moving Beyond Dead Trees” that the internet offered opportunities as well as challenges and that newspapers would always be around in some form or other.
“Too many journalists seem to take a perverse pleasure in ruminating on their pending demise,” Murdoch said in the speech in Australia.
“Unlike the doom and gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights” in the 21st century, he said.
Murdoch turned a small Australian newspaper he inherited in 1953 into one of the world’s largest media conglomerates that now includes 20th Century Fox, Fox News Channel and Sky, Dow Jones and the online networking site MySpace.
He said people now were “hungrier for information than ever before” and that papers have an edge over bloggers and other newcomers because they are more trusted by readers.
“Readers want what they’ve always wanted: a source they can trust,” Murdoch said. “That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future.”
‘Our business is not printing’
He said newspapers would have to evolve from the physical item to “news brands” that are delivered in a variety of ways and are flexible for readers.
“I like the look and feel of newsprint as much as anyone,” he said. “But our real business isn’t printing on dead trees. It’s giving our readers great journalism and great judgement.
“It’s true that in the coming decades, the printed versions of some newspapers will lose circulation. But if papers provide readers with news they can trust, we’ll see gains in circulation – on our web pages, through our RSS feeds, in emails delivering customised news and advertising, to mobile phones,” Murdoch said.
“In this coming century, the form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over,” he said.
Murdoch cited two of his most prestigious newspapers, The Times and The Wall Street Journal, as examples of how newspaper brands can win large online readerships.
But he stressed that even these papers must recognise that online customers will decide what news they want and how they receive it.
“To compete today, you can’t offer the old one-size-fits-all approach to news,” he said. “The challenge is to use a newspaper’s brand while allowing readers to personalise the news for themselves and then deliver it in the ways that they want.”
To capitalise on online opportunities, Murdoch said The Wall Street Journal was planning to offer three tiers of content online – free news, a subscriber-level service, and a third “premium service” of reader-customisable “high-end financial news and analysis”.
Murdoch was scathing of journalists who predicted the death of newspapers as self-pitying and “misguided cynics who are too busy writing their own obituary to be excited by the opportunity”.
“The newspaper, or a very close electronic cousin, will always be around,” he said. “It may not be thrown on your front doorstep the way it is today. But the thud it makes as it lands will continue to echo around society and the world.”