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Kim Williams calls News Corp leaks a festival of vengeance

Date

Kim Williams

Reaction to latest News Corporation leaks reveals ongoing denial about changes in the consumption of news, writes Kim Williams.

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.

54 comments so far

  • Australia’s most expensive sheltered workshop – ‘The Australian’.
    Losses approx: $80,000 for every edition published.
    Who can't balance a budget?
    Who needs a cost/benefit analysis?
    Absolute............gold.

    Commenter
    Love it
    Location
    Sydney City
    Date and time
    August 21, 2014, 6:32PM
    • Love it - having recently read "Killing Fairfax" by the AFR's Pamela Williams, your choice of the word "gold" is a little unfortunate.

      As a consumer of The Oz, the Fairfax papers, Sunday Tele, and Weekend Canberra Times, this whole battle between News, Fairfax and the ABC is great viewing. It's been keyboards at twenty paces for a while now. But it also has to be considered in the context of the massive technological changes occurring across the whole media landscape, as Williams discusses.

      The News v ABC stoush is a beauty - Cut and Paste v Media Watch (for those that can bear watching it), with editorials thrown in for good measure.

      If i may say, i'd be more worried about the longevity of the Fairfax stable more than News. Haven't got the exact numbers, but surely News globally is worth dozens of times the depleted Fairfax stock value. Rupert can carry Australia if he needs to, and there's emotion attached. Fairfax need to keep making profits in a tough environment.

      Hopefully they both survive - i'll keep paying the monthly fee - but the next few years will be crucial. The ABC ? Well they need a new and enforceable charter.

      Commenter
      Hacka
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 7:50PM
    • It may currently be loss making as you say @Love it, but The Australian has by far and away the highest quality journalism of any paper in this country. Undesputable. It is a delight to read.

      Read it for a month and you will be shocked, SHOCKED at the number of important articles printed which are not covered by it's competitor.

      The Australian is written for intelligent people who like hearing opinion from both sides of the political spectrum so they can make up their own minds.

      Commenter
      Gatsby
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 8:24PM
    • @gatsby. I was a long term subscriber to the Oz and agree it was a quality publication. Was. Now it is nothing more than sycophantic drivel; puff propaganda for the LNP, no doubt in expectation of getting grubby paws on prime quality public assets at a heavy discount. I cancelled my subscription 2 years ago and wouldn't lower myself to read such pathetic twaddle again. All the real quality writers packed up and left as have subscribers other than right wing zealots. You're welcome to it.

      Commenter
      Anthony
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 8:47PM
    • "The Australian is written for intelligent people who like hearing opinion from both sides of the political spectrum so they can make up their own minds."

      That would be the right and the far right I assume, Gatsby. Best chuckle I've had all day...

      Commenter
      Stevo
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 8:51PM
    • Hacka, all is good in Holt Street. The ABC is out of its depth, as usual. The others are still chasing.

      Commenter
      enough is enough
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 9:10PM
    • bwahahahaha - "the Australian paywall". Not surprised its losing money. Surely no one PAYS to read it? I don't read it since they put up the paywall. Plenty of free news elsewhere.

      Commenter
      peter
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 9:32PM
    • I respectfully disagree @Anthony, I reckon The Australian today is better than ever.

      No other papers boast journalists of the calibre of Hedley Thomas, Henry Ergas, Paul Kelly - too many to name. Sadly too many papers these days have been gutted down to a revolving door of fresh faced cadets with minimal experience.

      If you're only reading one newspaper these days you're only being told half the facts - sad but true.

      Shocks me that Fairfax isn't critical of the gargantuan ABC that day by day is rapidly sucking up all the oxygen that keeps Fairfax alive / viable. State-controlled media belongs in North Korea, not Australia.

      Commenter
      Gatsby
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 9:41PM
    • The Australian has a place in this country. I often disagree with the left leanings of Fairfax, however I would defend the right of it's journalists to print what they want. Why do those on the left have a problem with a conservative leaning paper providing a view alternative to theirs?

      Commenter
      Piped Piper
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 9:44PM
    • @ Hacka - 'Media Watch (for those that can bear watching it)' - sorry, sunshine, but I and many others would rather watch Media Watch than read the drivel you write.

      Commenter
      J
      Date and time
      August 21, 2014, 9:52PM

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