I went to Stansted. Did I see the Future?

IT WAS a bubble next to a major airport. The Radisson Blu Hotel in Stansted taken over by the real movers and shakers in British journalism-200 bosses-for two days this week. I was there too.

There was much doom and gloom-some local papers have lost up to 60% of their advertising in some sectors. They had cut costs, which is editors peak for shedding jobs by the score. Some had adopted new technology reluctantly and some were rushing headfirst into Twitter to try to rebuild the link with their audiences (Though the cynical journalist in me does ask what is there worth tweeting live all day in Wrexham North Wales where the LN Leader is based?). Writes John Mair

These new adopters now find a big elephant in the room. The BBC, which has been investing in digital for years and has much presence. This elephant though, built the room and built it to suit itself. An uncomfortable truth but truth all the same

But out of the gloom there were some positive pointers in an Editors’ discussion on the last day. Just how do you make journalism pay? The answer for the Evening Standard seems to be making it free. They now (for the last four weeks) give it away but 600,000 copies are not proving enough to satisfy demand said Editor Geordie Greig. Distribution costs had been reduced from 30p per copy to 4p. It was now merchandised rather than sold. Time will tell whether the increased advertising revenue will cover the costs of journalism.

James Harding the Editor of the Times said he and his proprietor Rupert Murdoch were ‘rewriting the economics of the newspaper industry’ (Again!). From Spring 2010, The Times (and one assumes other News International titles) will start selling online day passes to the paper. Putting up a pay wall where none existed before. The print industry, he said, had to stop itself being bled to death, as so nearly had the music industry through downloads. Will Murdoch win or has he made a huge blunder? Watch this space and his bottom line

The big elephant in the Stansted room itself was Google. Their British MD Matt Brittin was there neither to apologise nor grovel but to explain baldy that if papers did not want Google ‘parasiting’ (as some of them put it) on them they could withdraw their title from his  search engine ‘with one phone call’. Nobody took him up on that. He claimed that Google was sending 100.000 clicks a minute to publishers’ websites. They simply could not afford to lose this traffic. Google, he reminded the audience, was not a publisher but an aggregator and if the British media were smart they would use the new technology to survive. For example by using GPS to go hyper local in news. Otherwise the gloom would become doom.

In the current media recession this is the worst crisis most of the big boys (and few big girls) could remember in their lifetimes any torches leading out of the gloom are welcome

By John Mair

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