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Soundbytes: Murdoch on Technology, Media and Newspapers

quotesIn every business, there’s a select group of people guaranteed to lure a following when they speak.  Typically war tested and battle scarred, these are people that have been there.  People that, over years and decades, have weathered the battles and cultivated experience.  People that offer the prospect of insight only time can yield.   Rupert Murdoch is one of these people.   

If you’re in the media industry and want a perspective, Rupert’s one of your dream dinner table guests.  He took the helm of his first newspaper at 22 and in a lifetime of deal making he grew it into a global media powerhouse.  With News Corp, his holdings span TV, cable, print, film, internet, satellite and they travel around the globe.  

Unfortunately, Rupert Murdoch isn’t someone you can call up and ask to share a few stories or pointers.  That is out of the question.   Luckily, there’s ample supply of soundbytes, especially this month.

Every year for the past 48, Australia’s ABC Radio National has broadcast a series of lectures from a prominent Australian.    This year’s speaker in the  49th annual Boyer Lecture series is none other than Rupert Murdoch.   Through the span of November and December, he’s delivered a total of four themed talks.  Another two will air through December 7th. 

While the full transcripts, or podcasts, are available, we’ve collected a few choice bits from two of the speeches that specifically deal with media and technology. 

(The other speeches address policy, politics and education.  While off topic for Metue, they’re worth checking out and available here from ABC Radio National).

On the topics of Media and Technology, brief excerpts in Rupert Murdoch’s own words:

On working with the times or fighting them:
“The only way to deal with new technology that up-ends your job or your business model is to get out in front of it. Otherwise it will get out in front of you.   Now, I’m not saying that we should all become card-carrying geeks. But we do need to be contemporary—and to comprehend the impact on our family and our society.”

On where we are today:
“We are in the midst of a shift from an industrial society to an information society. And the news and entertainment industry is right in the centre of the maelstrom… Think about the Wall Street trader—at least, the one who still has a job—who now has instantaneous access to real time prices around the world. Then there is the South Korean teenager who uses MySpace to download music and chat with a German friend who shares her taste in bands….Yet even the beneficiaries worry that technology is more controlling than controlled. Workers fret for their jobs. Governments worry about people having access to information they no longer control. Corporate executives who once enjoyed quasi-monopolies now lose sleep—fearing that some little icon on someone’s desktop is going to wipe away their entire business.”

On Where We Are Going:
“I believe technology is ushering in a new golden age for humankind. I also believe that technology is making the human side of the business equation—skills and knowledge—more valuable than ever. And I believe that societies that want to prosper in this new age need to cultivate a spirit of learning and flexibility and achievement.”

“The challenge is clear. But so is history. Each improvement in information technology we have seen in the past—beginning with Gutenberg’s press and continuing with radio and television—has opened up access to more news and entertainment for millions more people who previously couldn’t get or afford it. There is no reason to think the trend will be different this time. Except that this time, the access will be universal—and the impact will be more profound.”

“History also shows that with each new advance, existing businesses are forced to become more creative and relevant to their customers. Once upon a time, the media and entertainment companies could count on the huge, up-front investments that discouraged competitors from entering the business. But, in many sectors, the barriers to entry have never been lower—and the opportunities for the energetic and the creative have never been greater. ..This competition is becoming more intense every day. Because technology now allows the little guy to do what once required a huge corporation.”

On the Importance of People
“The market encourages the spread of technology, because businesses have an incentive to attract more and more customers. That’s why technological breakthroughs that start out as expensive luxuries quickly become everyday necessities. This year in India and China alone 200 million cell phones will be sold.

But technology will do you no good unless you have men and women who know how to take advantage of it. That leads me to my second point: the growing importance of human capital. In other words,  an educated and adaptable population.

As technology levels the playing field, the human factor becomes more important. In plain English, if you run a business, you need good people more than ever.”

“as technology advances, the premium for educated people with talent and judgment will increase. In the future, successful workers will be those who embrace a lifetime of learning. Those who don’t will be left behind.”

On the Future of Newspapers
“I believe that newspapers will reach new heights. In the 21st century, people are hungrier for information than ever before. And they have more sources of information than ever before….Amid these many diverse and competing voices, readers want what they’ve always wanted: a source they can trust. That has always been the role of great newspapers in the past. And that role will make newspapers great in the future.

“If you discuss the future with newspapermen, you will find that too many think that our business is only physical newspapers. I like the look and feel of newsprint as much as anyone. But our real business isn’t printing on dead trees. It’s giving our readers great journalism and great judgment”

“In short, we are moving from news papers to news brands. For all of my working life, I have believed that there is a social and commercial value in delivering accurate news and information in a cheap and timely way. In this coming century, the form of delivery may change, but the potential audience for our content will multiply many times over.”

On Technology, News and Old Ways
“The first [challenge facing newspapers today] is the competition that is coming from new technology—especially the internet.  The more serious challenge is the complacency and condescension that festers at the heart of some newsrooms. The complacency stems from having enjoyed a monopoly—and now finding they have to compete for an audience they once took for granted.

The condescension that many show their readers is an even bigger problem. It takes no special genius to point out that if you are contemptuous of your customers, you are going to have a hard time getting them to buy your product. Newspapers are no exception.”

On the Danger of Ego in Journalism
“By taking their audience for granted and allowing themselves to become as institutionalized as any government or company they write about, [some] journalists are threatening their own papers. It is simply extraordinary that so many who are privileged to sit in the front row and write the first account of history could be so immune to its obvious meaning—not to mention the consequences for their own industry.”

The speeches in their entirety, and the other lectures in the series, can be found at ABC Radio in podcasts or transcripts.  

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