How will journalism survive the Internet Age?

By Reuters Staff
December 11, 2009

Chris Ahearn is President, Media at Thomson Reuters. The following is the text of remarks prepared for the Federal Trade Commission’s workshop on how the Internet has affected journalism.

Good afternoon. As I only have a couple of minutes, let me get straight to the point.

First, journalism is not synonymous with newspapers and today the discussion has focused too much on newspapers alone. Second, journalism will do more than survive the Internet Age, it will thrive. It will thrive as creators and publishers embrace the collaborative power of new technologies, retool production and distribution strategies and we stop trying to do everything ourselves.

I agree with Mr. Murdoch that the bold will survive and the timid will fail. However, the newfangled aggregators/curators and the dominant search engines are certainly not the enemy of journalism. Nor are they the salvation. They do not always refrain from doing evil in their pursuit of profit and audience. And they do fail to “do unto others” at times -– some do steal and use complete or near-complete copies of our and other work and use ad networks such as AdSense to unlawfully monetize without sharing.

That said, most are a constructive and competitive part of the news ecosystem, I welcome them and I continue to believe and support the link economy.

At Thomson Reuters, I am lucky to oversee the business of both the world’s most indispensible news agency as well as our innovative publishing arm, Thus, I see the challenges and opportunities from both sides of the aisle. Many of you in this room are clients of ours (or should be) and some of you are our competitors. Perhaps different from those who wish they could roll back the clock, we prefer to lean into the winds of change.

Like many we grapple with the coverage, cost and value issues of content scarcity vs. abundance as well as content uniqueness vs. utility. We choose to maximize the value of each of these four quadrants and have adaptive business models and markets which allow us to. For example, we focus principally on the importance of vertical and niche markets that have subscription-oriented models — this where our firm derives the vast majority of its revenues. We focus obsessively on the needs of professionals in those markets we serve. We don’t want to be all things to all people. We want to create journalism that has unique value to our clients, and partner with creators as warranted and needed. Most importantly, we focus on creating and providing valuable services — not just content.

As the world’s most indispensible news agency, we are very focused on the long-term health of our clients and the particular needs of news professionals. To foster cost-efficient growth, we see an opportunity for greater collaboration and partnership amongst all content creators.

We see a world that opens up the newsroom and news gathering process to allow the highest quality and valuable content to flow better from creators to publishers. This new network of syndication is predicated on serving the needs of publishers and their audiences – not what one organization or another simply wants to produce. It is inherently multisource, with rights defined and carrying multiple revenue streams, be they subscription, a la carte, bulk purchase, link-back or revenue sharing. This is a network based on choice and it must be collaborative.

This is the B2B content network the world needs now – and that is what we are building.

We see this platform as an open network that applies consistent metadata to create “intelligent information” designed to help publishers and broadcasters better manage their own and 3rd party content. This is not about locking publishing partners down or blocking search engines – but is about helping all content producers to develop new revenue streams as both a publisher and syndicator of their content. It is about letting the creator choose the most appropriate monetization model for themselves.

We fervently believe that value must always be conferred to the original creator – whoever that is, big or small, incumbent or insurgent.

This is an open platform which will allow publishers to save money by specializing and focusing on what they can uniquely do best – and (to paraphrase Jeff Jarvis) outsource the rest.

It will allow publishers to right-size their coverage efforts and stop wasting resources on writing the umpteenth undifferentiated story that is available elsewhere. Let’s be honest, too much resource and money is spent on regurgitation as opposed to unique and differentiated labor. It will allow creators to specialize on meeting the unique needs of their audience and will foster creativity.

Coupled with responsible behavior by all participants in the link economy – and I do mean all, both incumbent and insurgent – we will see the evolution to a new golden age of journalism and much, much more.

Thank you.


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To “stop wasting resources on writing the umpteenth undifferentiated story that is available elsewhere” sounds great in theory, but there are a few formidable issues to realizing that vision:

1) Audiences overlap, and the same story may have to be tailored in minor ways to appeal to different audiences, based on local issues, the “tone” or expertise of the publication, and other factors. Two stories that may appear “undifferentiated” to you actually have different angles, emphasis, or additional facts that actually make them more suitable or the audiences they are aimed at. Publications want to be differentiated in some way, and using the same outsourced copy does not help them achieve that goal.

2) There needs to be a system of trust and baseline quality in place, but also great flexibility considering the types of content providers and multitude of publications using it.

3) Making Reuters and a few other specialist players the powerbrokers will lead to news oligopolies — kind of like we had before the advent of the Internet, execept on global scale. That doesn’t sound like progress to me.

Ian Lamont
Managing Editor
The Industry Standard

Posted by ianlamont | Report as abusive

With 2800 news generators worldwide, a flexible business model, and a flair for spot-on intelligent reporting, Reuters should combine with BBC to create an unbeatable English-speaking 24-hour news network available in the U.K., U.S., and Australia (to start).

Many of us are weary of what we see as news in the U.S. today – entertainment and political-based stories with too much flash and not enough substance.

Reuters/BBC 24-hour Network News is long overdue and needs to happen.

Posted by hadas | Report as abusive

With internet free access to news and journalism, I still wonder, who pays the journalist? Who pays the photographer? Who pays the Hemingway out there, gathering the skillful report, to which we all have free access? (And who pays Hemingway’s secretary, who keeps transcribed copies of Hemingway’s tattered moleskines?)

Posted by fjpoblam | Report as abusive

Reuters has the right idea. Murdoch doesn’t have a clue that the world is changing. All he can do is think within the old framework.

Maybe that’s why in addition to my paying for, now he wants to charge for my reading it as a mobile edition. Hopefully, people (and companies) will start to charge Murdoch for reporting news about them. This from a “news” organization that repeats the same story ad nauseam.

There is no shortage of news outlets and aggregators that would be happy to report news. Murdoch needs to stop gazing at his navel and look out into the world and drive looking through the windshield and not the rear view mirror

Posted by eli77025 | Report as abusive

Love your vision of a distributed journalism network. However, I think continued reliance on tracking authority via the link economy is a dated concept.

Our current problems stem from the fact that Google values the publication location of content over the authority of the author themselves. In the real-world we filter information though topical experts (NYT writers, trusted personal referrals, employees of top companies) and we have established systems for discovering and evaluating these authorities.

PageRank was an early attempt to replicate this RW social filtering through the medium of web links, but PageRank has hit the limits of its effectiveness and we now find ourselves in need of a new standard for social filtering on the web.

One solution I’ve been evangelizing recently is to track reputation against authors rather than URLs – a ‘PageRank for People’. Think of it as a portable reputation system for the web – a way of using the authority of content creators (instead of URLs) to collectively filter content.

Here’s a couple of write-ups for more info:

‘Social Search and Distributed Reputation Systems’ (Presented at SES Chicago 2009):

‘Docs are Old-School, We Need PageRank for People’:

‘Meme-Tracking & the Dynamics of the News Cycle”(Cornell University – PDF):

Posted by MarshallClark | Report as abusive

Can Chris Ahearn be taken seriously on anything if he used these words in this appearance:

“At Thomson Reuters, I am lucky to oversee the business of both the world’s most indispensible news agency as well as our innovative publishing arm,”

How about the journalistic sourcing for such over-blown adjectives as “indispensable” and “innovative?”

Can this be a honest journalist when he has such a big head and such a swelled opinion of his and his company’s position in the world?

Indispensable for whom or what? Innovative? Maybe for
1996, but not for today.

Take off the rose-colored glasses, Chris Ahearn, and see the scary truth about your inadequate news report with its gaping holes in coverage.

Posted by Honesty | Report as abusive