2009 Lecture

Lional Barber, Editor
Financial Times

 

Lionel Barber, editor of The Financial Times, joined the list of distinguished figures who have associated themselves with the Geddes Awards when he delivered the annual Geddes Lecture in November 2009 to an appreciative audience in the newly opened Doctorow Hall at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. His lecture ‘W(h)ither journalism? The future of the press and new media' considered the possible routes journalism might take towards profit and survival.

 

He outlined the crisis of confidence suffered in the trade in both Britain and America, with the global recession accelerating a structural shift already underway as a result of the rise of new digital media. Readers and advertisers are both moving rapidly online, with 45% of Americans aged 18-34 reading a newspaper a few times a month or less, while 44% of the same group use the internet. In 1975 70% of Americans read a daily paper.

 

The recent challenge to the old newspapers and networks from the new media and 24 hour news networks has introduced the need for a more clear-cut, tabloid-type representation of events.

 

In Britain fierce competition has fostered greater experimentation with format, design and content, typified by the reinvention of the Independent as a “viewspaper”.

 

Professional journalists no longer hold exclusive rights to the news. Barber described the last US presidential campaign as “the YouTube election”, in which candidates were granted direct contact with the electorate. Bloggers broke several major stories, including Obama’s remarks about working-class Pennsylvanians and their fondness for “guns or religion”. As the news audience draws from multiple sources, unedited, unchecked bloggers and traditional media outlets, it is likely thaat the trust in the old media may be undermined.

 

Barber offered five suggestions for the salvation of the news industry in these times. First, new technologies must be embraced. Secondly, news organisations have to open themselves up to outside material, including that produced by consumers. Third, news organisations must continue to charge for content, in order to fund quality, trustworthy, original global reporting. Fourth, the owners of the media must be patient and sustain their commitment if their companies are to survive and adapt in the next few years. Fifth, organisations must find niches where they can produce quality information which some consumers will pay for.

 

His concluding note was optimistic. Though the overall market for print newspapers seems certain to shrink the wider business of news gathering and delivery will continue and diversify, as is happening at The Financial Times.

 

His full lecture can be found at www.seh.ox.ac.uk/.../1226414742_Whither_Journalism_transcript.pdf

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