The internet has no respect for the establishment and is a furiously strong levelling agent: News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch.

The internet has no respect for the establishment and is a furiously strong levelling agent: News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch. Photo: AP

During my time at News Corporation there were frequent frustrating leaks, much like the one this week, a comprehensive set of numbers on the company's Australian enterprises.

The leak, published in Crikey, was different only in that the material contained substantial unfiltered data which showed a whole picture rather than the selective briefing process of my day. I haven't reviewed the numbers since I left News in August 2013, but I imagine they reveal much which has been suspected as to trends in the media.  

Inevitably the commentary about the data threw brickbats about my period as chief executive running the Australian company. I described the commentary from News Corporation as a festival of vengeance. However, I do not resile from any of the reforms I initiated (many of which have been abandoned or reversed). Those reforms followed exhaustive analysis and detailed discussion. The decisions were also transparent to the chain of command. I shan't go on as it would sound defensive, which I don't need to be.

The commentary misses the point. Also sadly at its core, it repeats a denialist attitude to major behavioural and consumption change for news and information in all media. This is consumer driven and technology enabled. I find this denialism as perplexing now as I did when I was in that chief executive seat. 

In my forthcoming book, Rules of Engagement, I emphasise that as a result of digital technology many of the old paradigms and power constructs are breaking down or are already broken. The internet has no respect for the establishment and is a furiously strong levelling agent. New models in all things are becoming commonplace. 

This is something of utmost relevance to all media companies and saying that it isn't so will not change it. Print news media is, over the medium term, profoundly challenged economically. The numbers will reach a point where the high fixed costs simply make no sense and are not sustainable. Rhetoric won't win the day. I believe that a crunch point may be closer than many think – certainly the horizon in years is probably a single digit number. 

In a digital sphere nothing and no one is safe. Merit, ingenuity, speed, flexibility and performance increasingly now rule the day in the media. I think this is on one hand, a good thing because it is giving unparalleled empowerment to invention and creativity, with the opportunity of entirely new ways of working and connecting. On the other hand a well developed sustainable model for commercial delivery of serious independent journalism, as we have known it, is yet to emerge in the digital sphere. It is important that model emerges as a result of extensive consumer trials and from endless communication between consumers and working professional, because the health of our democracy is so dependent on a strong and independent media. I believe there are encouraging signs in many arenas and I am an optimist as to the capacity for creative energetic minds to find and deliver solutions. In a similar way our citizens are not fools and understand the quality of what you receive is a direct product of that for which they pay. 

In the interim media companies must extract every ounce of value from fine print products, but the writing is on the wall. The advertising premiums once enjoyed, the boost to circulation from "supported pricing" for huge volumes of massively discounted copies, and the aura of print having more authority than digital no longer pertains.  Consumers have in the main moved into a digital sphere and they are dictating the "rules of engagement". Some of the commentary from News Corp lacks a respect for the severity and sheer hurricane-like force of the changes reflected from that power transfer from media owners to media consumers. 

One thing is abundantly clear, we are now living through the largest single transfer of power in human history, from producers to consumers. The significance of that power shift is enormous. How Australia responds will define our modern nation - the challenge of innovation is at the core. The solutions rest in journalism adapting to the application of digital technology and engaging quite differently with their consumers and what they want.

As to how the new environment and the commercial models that fund it unfurls none of us really yet know. The journey is the most exciting and confronting in our adult lives – as consumers or as media professionals. It really does offer the possibility of merit finally winning through if we live true to the possibilities afforded in the digitally empowered era. 

While some of these forces can have profoundly destructive elements in some aspects of traditional news media; others are learning and adapting what's already happening  in telecommunications, entertainment, and some other media companies. The forces are now impacting other industries such as education, finance and retailing dramatically. The impact on politics is every bit as challenging. Fresh thinking and creative ingenuity can win through because the cost of entry is now lower than at any time before, so the cost of failure has never been lower. This economic reality allows for new models, possibilities and expectations to be explored and tested. Never has content and commercial creativity been so unencumbered – we all need to reflect long and hard on the implications of this new operating landscape. 

This is the largest citizen empowerment change seen in history, and it has happened almost entirely from technology.  The impact on consumer behaviour and, more importantly, on expectation has been overwhelming – a true game changer. We live in different times and I for one am very tired of hearing examples and role models which are historically inappropriate, holding to a past with little to offer the adaptive approaches required today.

Kim Williams, former chief executive of News Corp, is the author of Rules of Engagement (MUP), published next week.