Murdoch: Newspapers Must Stop Fearing Web

By: Joe Strupp Media mogul Rupert Murdoch urged newspaper editors to grab on to the digital revolution, stop fearing or ignoring the power of the Web, and do more to serve the young news consumers -- or "digital natives," as he called them -- who are more and more going to the Internet for information.

"We need to realize that the next generation of people have a different set of expectations of the kind of news they will get," Murdoch told a luncheon crowd at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference on Wednesday, "including when and how they will get it, and who they will get it from."

Citing a list of statistics that show fewer people are reading print newspapers but more are on the Web, Murdoch told the assembled hundreds of editors that online news reporting should be embraced, not feared. Sporting a gray tie, dark suit, and glasses, Murdoch noted that 44% of news consumers between 18 and 34 use the Internet once a day for news, compared to 19% who use a printed newspapers. In the future, he said, 39% expected to use the Internet more, compared to 8% who expected to use newspapers more. He also said only 9% describe newspapers as trustworthy, 8% as useful, and 4 % as entertaining

"Four out of every five Americans in 1964 read a newspaper every day; today only half do," the News Corporation chairman said. "In the face of this revolution, we have been slow to react. We have sat by and watched while our newspapers have lost circulation."

Although Murdoch publishes only one newspaper in the United States, the New York Post, he owns more than 175 English-language papers worldwide, including The Times of London and a number of papers in Australia, where his News Corporation started as a newspaper company.

"Scarcely a day goes by that someone does not claim that technology writes newspapers' obituary," Murdoch observed. "I didn't do as much as I should have after all the [Internet] excitement of the late 1990s. I thought this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along. Well, it hasn't. It is a fast-developing reality that we should grasp to improve our journalism and expand our reach."

"I come to this discussion not as an expert, but as someone who is searching for answers," he added. "I'm a digital immigrant. I wasn't weaned on the Web or coddled on a computer. My two young daughters, however, are digital natives."

Murdoch stressed that young people are showing they do not want to read print papers in the same way their parents do and are not likely to change. He cited author Philip Meyer's prediction that "the last reader will recycle the last newspaper in 2040 -- April 2040, to be precise."

"Unless we awaken to these changes, we will as an industry be relegated to the status of also-rans," Murdoch said. "There is an opportunity to improve our journalism and expand our reach. Not one newspaper in this room lacks a Web site, but how many of us can say we are taking maximum advantage of our Web sites?"

He said young people "still want news and we are uniquely positioned to deliver that news. We have unique content to differentiate ourselves. The challenge, however, is to deliver that news in the way consumers want to receive it."

In addition, newspapers need to realize that younger readers, and others who access online outlets more, also want different news than their parents or grandparents. "They don't just want to know how events in the Middle East will affect the presidential election," Murdoch stressed, "but how it will affect prices as the gas pump."

"I fear technology, and our response to it, is by no means our only challenge. What I worry about much more is our ability to make the cultural changes. We are too out of touch with our readers. We worry too much about whether we have the story than whether anyone wants the story."

Murdoch noted his past success in taking a untraditional approaches, including his creation of the Fox Television Network, Fox News Channel, and providing his The Times of London in both tabloid and broadsheet format.

"At my company, we have a history of challenging media orthodoxies," he bragged, while also saying Fox News Channel reports "objectively and fairly," which drew some light groans. When asked later what his company was doing to expand on the Web, he said, "all our efforts as a company are to expand ourselves to the Internet, everywhere. We are not searching to extend ourselves in print."

But he stressed that charging for Web content is not a good idea. "I don't hold out any hopes for people to be paying for our Internet sites," he said in response to a question. "They have to be popular enough to hold a lot of advertising."

He then suggested that editors "create a Web site compelling enough to make [it] a reader's home page. It can't just be a bland repurposing of print content. Experiment with the concept of using bloggers. There are risks, chief among them, maintaining our standards of fairness and objectivity." But, he added, "the threat of losing print advertising dollars to Internet advertising is very real; in fact it is already happening."

Although he offered no specifics about how newspapers can boost the Web product, he said it is not something editors can put off any longer.

"In the newspaper business it would be disastrous if it is not addressed," he said about the web changes. "Success in the online world will beget greater success in the print medium. We can and must begin to assimilate to their culture."


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