Mark Thompson: Bright Future for Serious Journalism

September 8, 2013 • Ethics and Quality • by

Mark Thompson, President and CEO of the New York Times, said the newspaper industry could take lessons from Hollywood in how to generate several sources of revenue from one product.

In his first major speech since taking up his post at the New York Times Thompson argued that the demand for serious journalism was greater than ever. The industry now had to find a way to make it pay and Thompson argued that the solutions will come from the top end of the market.

“The journalism that serious newspapers do has retained its saliency and indispensability, and …we are currently seeing more journalistic and creative digital innovation from them than we are from either the tabloid newspaper world or the broadcasters…”

He added that that most of the US media, across print, TV and the web, have turned away from international reporting, leaving “outstanding American professional journalism about the rest of the world…facing less competition than it did ten, or fifty years ago.

Thompson, who became president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company in November 2012, after 8 years as director-general of the BBC, is sceptical about whether digital advertising on its own would ever be sufficiently large and secure enough to support a large-scale quality news operation. Instead he suggests a more nuanced approach, combining digital ad revenues with other sources of income.

Speaking at the 2013 Reuters Memorial lecture at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford, on Friday 6 September Thompson suggested that one option would be to further develop online subscriptions, and to use the brand to develop video, conferences, smart games and e-commerce.

He said: ‘We don’t believe that digital is a done deal: We expect to run a hybrid business for many years to come, print and digital, subscription and vital ad revenues.”

Thompson suggested the industry could learn lessons from the Hollywood film industry, that exploits ‘the same underlying intellectual property through multiple formats and time-windows.” In other words, movies are expensive to create, but Hollywood keeps them profitable by using the same product and concept in several ways, releasing the movie in the cinema, then on DVD and pay TV, merchandising, spin offs and games.

“News is too time-sensitive for many windows through time, but the development of multiple different expressions of our journalism, optimised for particular audiences and use- aims to achieve the same economic benefit,” he said.

He hinted that a future digital model could offer varying charges for a range of different levels of service. “We want everyone to have the chance to sample Times journalism. But we also want as many people to pay for it as possible…..The first plank of our new strategy is to develop additional pay offerings aimed at those who tell us they would certainly pay us something for Times journalism but less than the $200 or so which is our current lowest digital subscription – though we also intend to create enhanced offerings for those who tell us they would pay us more than the current most expensive subscription if we offered them the right additional features and services.’

Thompson also said that as from next month, the International Herald Tribune will be replaced by International New York Times as the newspaper goes after paying subscribers across the world, in English and possibly in other languages.

He said he believed the New York Times had the reputation that people will pay for. ‘Without any marketing whatsoever, without the ability to address people who hit the pay-gate in their own language or to bill them in any currency other than the dollar, we gained around 70,000 subscribers from outside the US since the pay model began two and half years ago. Now we want to see if we can attract more when we do put all of those things in place.

Thompson will appear in front of a British parliamentary committee on Monday 10 September, to answer questions about controversial pay offs made to BBC executives. He did not comment on the matter at his lecture on Friday.

Photo credit: Sheffield Doc/Fest / Flickr CC

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