Newspapers not doomed by Internet, Murdoch assures

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

KOBE — Editors and publishers attending the 51st World Newspaper Congress here have heard lectures warning of the threat the Internet poses to the future of newspapers. But on Tuesday, one of the world’s leading publishers struck back at critics, saying their predications are completely wrong.

Speaking on the second day of the conference, Lachlan Murdoch, executive chairman of News Limited, Australia and son of famed publisher Rupert Murdoch, acknowledged that newspaper companies must adapt to the future. But he began by defending the importance of the traditional newspaper.

“Some financial analysts believe that newspapers are an Old World medium, a relic of the past, not an essential part of a modern multimedia corporation,” he said. “It goes without saying, they are 100 percent wrong. I don’t think the Internet or other, yet unimagined, forms of new media will kill the daily newspaper,” he said.

Noting that newspapers have survived the arrival of radio, television, cinema and a host of other media forms, Murdoch suggested that publishers would do better to concentrate on present rather than potential future competition.

“Perhaps we think too much about where our newspapers will be in 20 years and not enough on the papers we will produce tomorrow,” he said.

Mike Robson, managing director of New Zealand’s Independent Newspapers Ltd., said the key to survival and future prosperity will be to retain the things newspapers do best, such as covering local news and crusading for issues that affect local communities. “One hundred years ago, newspapers were about their community. The successful ones today still are,” he said.

Maintaining quality, while expanding flexibility and creativity, are the two ingredients for success, Murdoch and Robson agreed. Both added that the medium of newspapers has one important advantage over new media forms: credibility. “You may have heard it on TV. But you read it in the newspaper,” Murdoch said.

Another speaker Tuesday was Nicholas Kristof, Tokyo Bureau chief of The New York Times. Speaking at the Fifth World Editors Forum, which is being simultaneously held at the same venue as the newspaper congress, Kristof said reporters need to put more emphasis on social transformation when they cover news in foreign countries.

Describing his experiences as a reporter in Asia during the past decade, Kristof said the most important story of the mid-1980s in South Korea was not the demonstrations and riots of the democracy movements he covered intensively in 1987, but the emergence of a middle class and steady economic growth.

The news media are good at covering things that happen on a particular day but tend to miss historical transformations unannounced by prime ministers or other political leaders, he said.

Kristof also explained that a fundamental problem in countries where the government controls the media is the restrictions placed on foreign reporters’ coverage.