Stop listening to newspaper people, says John Paton of the Journal Register group. ‘We’ve had since the mid-90s to get this right and we are no good at it’
Viewers of the sumptuous new Guardian TV ad – featuring three little pigs and paeans for “open journalism” – may find the participatory ways of online exciting and life enhancing. But here, as with all things in life, you can play the mood music sweet or harsh – and my Canadian editor chums are still reeling from a brutal lecture from John Paton, currently America’s leading apostle of the surge from dead forests to digital (at his burgeoning Journal Register group). To begin with, he says, “crappy newspaper executives are a bigger threat to journalism’s future than the internet“.
See how easily they delude themselves? Print’s coming back, they say. Rubbish! “In America from 1985 to 2005 – the very peak of print newspaper advertising revenue – the average annual growth was 2.7%; [and] that was the golden era… It will be more than a quarter of a century before we’re back to 2005 levels. Though that’s not going to happen as advertising gets an ever smaller share of marketing dollars.”
So Paton moves into invigorating hymns about participation, digital democracy and open publishing. He wants us to acknowledge that “the print model is broken”. Look, “as career journalists, we’ve entered a new era where what we know and what we traditionally do has finally found its value in the marketplace and that value is about zero … ‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone’ isn’t much of a business model.”
He wants community-building and the dialogue and inter-reaction that can make it live. He’s bored with top-down journalism and gatekeeper antics. He has seen a caring, sharing world and he knows it can work. “For God’s sake, stop listening to newspaper people. We have had since the mid-90s to get this right and clearly we are no good at it. Put the digital people in charge, of everything. They can take what we have built and make it better.”
And I’ll have some apple chutney with my barbecued pork, please…
■ It’s the problem Woodward and Bernstein couldn’t solve: is the Washington Post a local or national paper? Enter the formidable Sarah Ellison, reporting for Vanity Fair, and a quote from the Post‘s publisher that resounds. “One of our biggest problems is that we have three people at the top of the paper, none of whom care a shit about Sports, Metro or Style,” says Katharine Weymouth. And there’s the rub. If you range around Europe, looking at circulation trends, you know that British national papers – without regions to identify with – are falling fastest of all. Give them a big city to hang on to and they can gain more traction. But is that what supposedly national editors eager for glory and Pulitzer prizes want? There’s the most profound problem of the lot.
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