Guardian Changing Media: The future of media?

Session Chair: Nick Higham, correspondent, BBC News

Andy Duncan, chief executive, Channel 4

Tom Loosemore, project director, Web 2.0, BBC

Alan Rushbridger, editor, The Guardian

Ok, I’ll be have be on my best blogging game now with the Editor – as he’s simply known as at the Guardian – speaking. He started off with one of his famous abstract presentation images – think Kandinsky does PowerPoint – that showed the blue line of depressing, falling print profits, the red line of rising online profits and an amorphous green bubble where most media organisations are. A little star in the bubble showed the current location of the Guardian with respect to the profit decline, profit growth curves.

Next, Alan pulled out an electronic reader from Illiad. It is a screen that has wonderful resolution and looks like paper. They are wonderful things, but it’s impossible to predict what form journalism will be delivered in the future.

One year on, and the depressing abstract graph has moved on a little bit. And then he showed that the Guardian is competing not just against the Telegraph and the Times but against the New York Times, Yahoo, Google, Oh My News and just about everyone. And the move has been from one platform – print – to a multiplicity of platforms. We’re also mixing sources of content from our own journalists to a broader mix of content from users and our communities.

Ten years on, we hope the increase in online profits then surpasses the declining print profits. Although Alan showed this a lot better than I did – aging a few media moguls with a little Photoshop magic and the addition of white hair. He also wondered out loud what media organisations would fade as their owners aged, and their children took less interest in running media businesses.

Next up, Tom Loosemore. I have only met Tom a few times, but I really like his ideas. I remember Tom, Nico Flores and me sharing lunch with Jeff Jarvis last summer. It was one of the more interesting lunches I had at the Beeb.

Tom said that the BBC is cutting itself some slack, especially when it comes to be in the middle of Alan’s green bubble. Many of the assumptions that we built our business around are gone. The ability to copy digital media perfectly has fundamentally changed our models.

We are right at the top of the hype curve when it comes to Second Life, but it’s not crucial to focus on technology but on behaviours, especially people we used to find were our audience. When you look at young people, technology doesn’t really exist until they are 15.

When you look at the young early adopters, you see amazing changes. They see media as self expression, identity and empowerment. They use media on their terms. If it is not on their terms, they either nick it, ignore it or make it on their own.

What has changed in media is who is charge, who is control. I think we need to be honest on how much previous popularity of media was down to quality and how much was down to control. There used to be only so many channels. There is only so much room on newstands for so many newspapers and magazines. Was that content that good?

This is a generation that will not give control back. At the BBC, he says they have to balance the needs of his great aunt who thinks that BBC 2 is a little risque and his son. If he really wants to punish his son, he doesn’t take away the TV, he unplugs the router. The BBC has to succeed in making the licence fee payer believe that £130 a year is really good value.

We’re in a state of flux, but this is not the death throes of media. Those that win will take the long term view. Those who win will give up control gracefully.

Andy Duncan of Channel 4 spoke next. I’m not going to waste space writing up his talk. He spent the first 5 minutes making a pointless rebuttal of an article in G2 that asked: “What’s the point of Channel 4?” What was the point of his talk, more like. Obviously he sees a future in government, because after that he launched into a content-free mumble notable only for its cliches about progress and the role of media in the future of the British economy. It reminded me of Kang’s speech in the Simpsons when he and Kodo take over the bodies of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and run for president:

We must go forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom.

That’s about the level of vision and inspiration that we’re talking about here. He of course spiced up his ill-prepared, or at least, ill-delivered comments with a few buzzwords like UGC and mobile community, oh and, of course, a radio station in Second Life. But that really was it. “We’re in a multi-channel world.” Duh? “Competition is growing.” Duh? Ben Hammersley and I liberated a couple of bottles of beer early from the drinks reception just to deaden the boredom.

Maybe he was playing it close to the vest lest he give away his strategy to his competitors. That would be the generous interpretation. Maybe he is just a poor public speaker. Maybe he’s just clueless. But I was left thinking to myself: What exactly does it take to become the chief executive of a media company?

Ok, back to your regularly scheduled round up. Nick Higham asked Tom: Well, the BBC surely can’t cede control, can it?

Tom responded by saying that this generation was much more media literate than we were giving them credit for.

Trusting content because of the means of distribution is over.

Nick asked whether the reader comments on Comment is Free would blow the Guardian’s brand proposition “out of the water”.

Alan said that journalists are struggling with the fact that they are not the only ones who know things. There is a danger that it might capsize the brand, but “there is something about the way the community moderates themselves”. And the Guardian did some internal subjective review of the comments, rating them on a five star scale, and most comments were in fact, high quality, with ratings of four and five stars.

The first question came from Patrick Smith of the Press Gazette and asked if there was still a role for the journalist. Alan said that there was still a place for an ‘unpolluted supply of journalism that people can trust’. But he added that it was not right to think that people in newsrooms in Wapping, Kensington or Farringdon were the only people who knew things.

Tom said that journalists now had a fantastic range of new sources, but he added that great editors had become more important not less.

Suw and I are considering writing a little round up of our thoughts. We’ve noticed a few early interesting items in our trackbacks asking why the conversation seems to have stalled or is getting a bit repetitive. Hugh Martin asked why I blogged here and I didn’t blog on the Guardian blogs, seeing as I’m the Guardian blogs editor. I have responded on his blog, but he has approved my comment yet so I’ll respond here.

I blog on Guardian blogs when I go to conferences, but if there are other Guardian staff blogging, then I usually write here. Also, Suw and I tend to write notes ‘with the eye of a stenographer‘ or ‘amazing near transcript quality‘, which is a bit different than the Guardian blog style. And I hope our little public service makes up for what this blogger felt was too high of cost for a ticket, shutting out citizen journalists and others.

Now, Hugh’s point is taken when it comes to my relatively low profile on Guardian blogs, and as I said in my as yet to be published comment, I’ve spent much of my first six months behind the scenes working on the tech, making sure it’s ready to support our editorial goals. But, I know that I need to be involved in community, not just poking at servers and software in the background. That will change soon enough.

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