Julian Clarke AM, the former CEO of News Corp and former chairman of the RCH Foundation, was the guest speaker at the Alumni luncheon on July 2nd, which was attended by more than 30 members and guests in the boardroom of the RCH Foundation.
As a newspaper man, he said, he had given careful thought to the title of his talk, as a good headline should reflect the content and entice the reader. Two memorable headlines, he recalled, were “Headless body in topless bar” and one which appeared in a farmers’ paper, “Time to root daisy”.
On the subject of connectedness, Julian spoke about the digital revolution of the last 20 years as one that was just as important as the agricultural and industrial revolutions that preceded it. The information age has transformed, in both scale and weight, every profession and every industry. Of course, there have been winners and losers. The impact on newspapers has been massive, life threatening. Viability has been threatened – in fact, 1000 U.S. newspapers have closed in the last decade. As newspapers disappear, fundamental questions are being asked about what will happen to our democracy?
Newspapers are incredibly expensive to produce. Sixty percent of the costs are in printing and distribution. Seventy percent of the revenue to support a newspaper comes from advertising and 30% from sales of the paper. Of the $17 billion spent on advertising, 50% now goes to the new electronic search and social media companies (Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc).
So how do news organisations respond when threatened in this way?
The advent of television in 1956 was predicted to have the power to wreck sales of newspapers, but in fact newspaper sales peaked in 1973. The newspaper organizations successfully bid for TV stations and this ensured their survival.
The new digital companies, however, are different. They are world-wide and very smart – they don’t have to produce any of the content they publish.
Newspaper companies have realised that more and more readers will access the paper through electronic devices and so NewsCorp decided to build its digital platform and to employ a paid subscription model. The Herald and Weekly Times now boasts 550,000 subscribers and they are able to read every word of the paper. The Australian newspaper has 150,000 digital subscribers, more than the number of subscribers to the printed edition. Journalists upload their articles directly to the internet and their articles can be published immediately.
Having a digital publication also gives certain powers to the people at the top. Julian recalled that while sitting at his desk in Sydney, he could see on his computer screen how many people were reading any particular article at any moment (in real time), where they were, and what kind of device they were reading it on.
In finishing Julian answered questions and inevitably, there was one about what Rupert Murdoch was like to work with. “He’s someone who has a Ph.D Brain and is a Street Fighter all in one”, he said, “but I always enjoyed working with him”.