Peter Barron: Journalism ‘underplayed tech revolution’

  • The public, not Google, will decide the fate of the mainstream media
  • Taxing Google to support newspaper industry is ‘pretty extraordinary’
  • ‘If you go into journalism to change the world, you’re slightly misguided

THE MAINSTREAM media must learn to embrace the ‘technological revolution’ if they are to survive the recession and beyond, according to formed Newsnight editor turned Google press chief, Peter Barron.

Speaking at a media lecture at Coventry University, Google’s head of PR for the UK and Ireland said journalism had “undercooked and underplayed the biggest revolution in the history of revolutions”.

He argued that Google in no way posed a threat to mainstream media but merely facilitated consumers’ demands, saying it would ultimately be they who determined the fate of the British print and broadcast press by their preferences.

“Consumer behaviour is a threat to the mainstream media, because the technological revolution has changed everything, and clearly that revolution has had a disruptive effect on the media landscape,” he said.

“We are seeing newspapers really suffering, TV too with ITV and Channel 4 finding it hard to compete in the current climate.  The real point needing to be made is whether TV and newspapers are going to be here in 20, 30, or 40 years time?  I’m pretty sure they are, but probably in a slightly different form.

“It’s fair to say that the number of newspapers in the UK is going to shrink.  No one has gone out of business yet, but it could be inevitable if that happens.  The ones who have ridden the wave – the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the Daily Mail, even – are the ones going to survive and prosper,” he added.

Barron was critical of the French government’s efforts to “hold back” Google by placing a tax on the internet giant in an effort to help the country’s ailing newspaper industry.  He described it as “pretty extraordinary”, before calling for “a better approach”.

The success of Google now sees it employ more than 700 staff around the UK, a figure that looks set to increase further with more than 41million people now using the internet, 90% having a broadband connection, and every 17pence in the pound being spent online.

Having left his high-profile job as editor of Newsnight in July 2008 where he worked for four years, Barron then moved to the digital world of PR, saying his decision “was the right and proper thing to do as Google was as good a place as any to work”.

When asked if making the move from journalism to public relations was the right one, Barron admitted to having no regrets, adding that it was proving to be “extremely interesting and challenging”.

Barron said that after four “full on” years as Newsnight’s editor he was more than happy to move on to something else, despite the successful working relationship he shared with Paxman and the rest of the team.

He added: “Learning how Google works has been a huge experience.  I’m a big fan of journalism, and wouldn’t knock it for a second, but if you go into journalism in order to change the world, you are slightly misguided.

“It’s a different job, but some things are not dissimilar; you have a team, you dream up ideas, and you try and make them work.  It’s not a million miles away from what I was doing in television.”

Read this article on the Press Gazette’s website

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