Rupert Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corp., gave a speech on Sunday titled "The Future of Newspapers: Moving Beyond Dead Trees." In the speech, he made the bold statement 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," he said. "Unlike the doom and gloomers, I believe that newspapers will reach new heights in the 21st century."
The speech, recorded in the United States and relayed nationally by the Australian Broadcasting Corp., was the latest in an annual ABC series of lectures by a prominent Australian.
Murdoch, who grew a small city newspaper into a media conglomerate that now includes 20th Century Fox, Fox News Channel and Sky Broadcasting, Dow Jones & Co. and the social network, MySpace, knows a little something about the media industry.
He doesn't believe that the internet will be the death of newspapers at all - it will only transform them. He called the doomsayers who predict the Internet killing off newspapers "misguided cynics who are too busy writing their own obituary to be excited by the opportunity." He believes they are missing the fact that the online world is really just a huge new market ready to be tapped. And it's filled with news-craving consumers. People now are "hungrier for information that ever before," he said. "Readers want what they've always wanted: a source they can trust. That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future."
The news of the future may not come in the printed paper format anymore, Murdoch admits. In the coming decades, he too expects some newspapers to lose circulation. But as those numbers die down, others will increase. Online news sources will grow and grow. The circulation gains he expects will be not only through web pages and RSS feeds, but also email that delivers customized news and ads to our mobile devices.
"In this coming century, the form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over," he said.
But what will this new online model for information delivery look like? Murdoch mentioned The Times of London and The Wall Street Journal, both papers he owns, as examples of those that managed to obtain large, online readerships. With the WSJ specifically, Murdoch made note of its plans to offer three tiers of online content: free news, a subscriber-level service, and a third "premium service" of reader-customizable "high-end financial news and analysis."
Will this tiered content model fit all, though? We think it may be too soon to tell. We're already seeing other initiatives to help "save journalism" arise that use a new crowd-funded model where micro-donations sent in through the internet help pay the reporter's salary.
Two such experiments in crowdfunding are Spot.us and Representative Journalism, both which are testing this concept at the local level. Spot.us allows freelance journalists to pitch story ideas and get funding from the public in the San Franciso Bay Area, and Representative Journalism (or RepJ) is running a test in Northfield, Minn., funding one full-time journalist to cover that community.
Meanwhile, we're seeing papers in our hometowns shift coverage locally to combat the online threats. What once was a throwaway community circular is now being revived as a lightweight way to ingest your local news. That model may succeed as well.
What's more, the internet may allow for more than one business model to succeed here. However, only time will tell which ones really work best.