Gavin O'Reilly: The press must stop penning its own obituary

Newspapers are stronger than ever, even though they can be their own worst enemies

For an industry billed as the "4th Estate" with a proud legacy stretching back over 400 years – it is remarkable to me how unsophisticated the commentary is on the press these days, and specifically how and where the newspaper sits in the media matrix. It is equally astonishing how herd-like and insecure our industry has become and somewhat galling to recognise that much of the negative perception has actually been shaped by those in newspapers.

There seems to be a new sport in the sometimes cliquey, over-reported and London-centric world of UK media – and that is the growing tide of reportage on the demise of newspapers. Too often this is written with a misguided sense of authority and – bizarrely – with a large dose of glee.

Some may accuse me of shooting the messenger but I assure you that I am not. As president of the World Association of Newspapers, I'm keen to ensure this dialogue starts off in the right tenor. My comments are not necessarily meant to be a facile rallying call for newspapers but I make no apologies if that is the consequence.

I want to tell you that, Rupert Murdoch was right. I always find that that's a very easy way to start a talk at a newspaper conference. After all, he's the most successful media proprietor ever – having taken a small local newspaper group from Adelaide, Australia and built it into the most impressive, multi-media conglomerate the world has ever seen. So when Rupert speaks, you'd simply be foolish not to listen very carefully.

Some while back, Rupert gave an address to the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His speech was provocative, directional and humbling for all of us in the newspaper industry. He articulated the many failings and bold realities of our industry. He challenged us to redefine our understanding of the newspaper in this digital age. Vis-à-vis the many opportunities on the web, he acknowledged that many newspaper executives had been "remarkably, unaccountably complacent". His was a clarion call to all of us and I know that many newspaper executives responded in a positive way.

That said – reading and listening to the subsequent press reports of Rupert's speech might have made you conclude that the end of newspapers was a dead certainty. I assure you that was not what Rupert said, nor what he was advocating. So at the same time as Rupert positions MySpace against Facebook or launches his new Fox Financial News Network, he is also busily expanding his print operations. In the next month, he'll complete the purchase of the Wall Street Journal and, only this week, he opened his new £60m triple-width print facility in Scotland – part of a £600m investment programme – with a speech paying tribute to the enduring power of print. So I sense a man who is doing much more than just hedging his bets. Indeed, read News Corporation's 2007 Annual Report where Rupert says: "While I share the concerns of those who fret about the future of newspapers, I have never shared their sense of gloom."

And yet when I then read our high-profile media commentators – the Glovers or the Gowers or the Greenslades or the Prestons or the Wilbys – or even the newer crop of business media journalists, it is hard not to conclude that the new mantra is that the newspaper is dead or at least in the hospital ward and that media companies – traditional newspaper companies – are losing out to the internet. The perception is that the newspaper is on an inexorable slide. Virtually every report one reads, every brokerage report from the investment banks, appears to support this new conventional wisdom.

I view newspapers quite differently from the many dissenters. I see them as a vibrant, relevant and commercial proposition for readers and advertisers alike. I believe that those of us in the newspaper industry should view our future in a very expansionist way.

Armed with published and verifiable stats from the World Association of Newspapers, I could give you a quite different analysis of the global newspaper and online industries from some of the commentators. I could remind you that global sales of paid-for newspapers actually grew last year (and not just in India and China). Or I could remind you that the online advertising market is worth only $21bn (£10bn), and that 65 per cent of that is accounted for by Google, MSN and Yahoo! Or perhaps I could surprise you and tell you that our industry is a $190bn industry that is expected to grow its advertising by 17 per cent over the next five years – at a faster rate than the preceding five years.

In the UK, paid-for newspaper circulations have been falling. One can and should look for the real reasons for this, which the commentators rarely delve into. I am talking about, firstly, the rapid and much-hyped proliferation of free newspapers and, secondly, a market that has become profoundly distorted by a promotionally-led agenda.

Why go out and buy a paper if there's an odds-on chance that at least 10 people will tackle you on your way to work and try to shove a free newspaper in your face, or will entice you with a free DVD, a free CD, a wall chart and the rest? Newspaper groups whose efforts are often marked by lower margins, or worse, will justify their actions by saying they are putting a newspaper into the hands of people who wouldn't otherwise read them.

The thinking is that recruiting readers young – and getting them into the habit of newspapers – will suddenly lead to some Darwinian evolution, where at some stage (presumably when they turn 43-and-a-half) they will unilaterally trade up and start to buy a paper. What a load of old tosh!

I, for one, know that the future of media companies will be what it has always been built upon and that's content, content, content. Do I mean user-generated content? Well, that will clearly have its place but I'm really talking about distinctive, comment and analysis; well-crafted and well-edited content that has faced the rigours of a well-honed editorial process. To me, that is not only the USP of the newspaper of the past, but more critically for its future, built upon journalistic skills that are not simply an inalienable right of someone with attitude sitting in a garage in front of a PC, but rather a skill that is learned and earned.

I see a world where quality, distinctive journalism in print and online will stand the test of time and the constant onslaught of technological innovation. Some will accuse me of wishful thinking. I see it as a worthy financial strategy built on a belief that quality, established and trustworthy journalism will become even more relevant, even more vital in this growing digital age, where people are being bombarded daily with information and where, too often, the lowest common denominator wins out.

I believe the prognosis for newspapers is actually quite different to conventional wisdom. To use the parlance of the day, at Independent News & Media we see newspapers as the ultimate browser, where in essence, someone else has done the hard work for you and delivered the serendipity of life in a concise, colourful, and portable way. All for half the price of a cup of coffee.

This is an edited version of a speech delivered yesterday to the Society of Editors conference in Manchester

Gavin K O'Reilly is Group Chief Operating Officer of Independent News & Media PLC and President of the World Association of Newspapers.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales Executive

£20 - £30k DOE + OTE + BENEFITS: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Guru Careers: Copywriter / Direct Response Copywriter

£20k plus sales linked bonus. : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Copywriter to j...

Guru Careers: 3D Creative Designer

Up to £26k DOE: Guru Careers: A Junior / Mid-Level 3D Creative Designer is nee...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen