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News enters the future

By T.K. MALOY, UPI Technology Editor   |   March 14, 2006 at 5:25 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, March 14 (UPI) -- The newspaper industry and its moguls may go the way of the dinosaur, according to media baron Rupert Murdoch, who hailed a new "age of discovery" that has included the dawn of the digital age.

The 75-year-old news titan spoke Monday at the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers (a 603-year-old guild) where he waxed optimistically of an information age that is evolving from newspapers to include not only the iPod but the PlayStation.

"Societies or companies that expect a glorious past to shield them from the forces of change driven by advancing technology will fail and fall," Murdoch said. "That applies as much to my own, the media industry, as to every other business on the planet."

He added, "Power is moving away from the old elite in our industry -- the editors, the chief executives and, let's face it, the proprietors."

Murdoch's global empire (News Corporation) -- which includes the Fox Entertainment Group, 175 newspapers, BSkyB and DirectTV, along with a number of magazines -- has also been focusing on Internet investments to the tune of nearly $1 billion.

Looking at the already changing face of news consumption, he said, "A new generation of media consumers has risen demanding content delivered when they want it, how they want it, and very much as they want it," adding, "This new media audience -- and we are talking here of tens of millions of young people around the world -- is already using technology, especially the Web, to inform, entertain and above all to educate themselves."

The longtime media owner cautioned his listeners not to underestimate the large-scale changes that the information revolution will bring, including the power of evolving technologies "to build and destroy -- not just whole companies, but whole countries."

"Never has the flow of information and ideas, of hard news and reasoned comment, been more important," he said. "The force of our democratic beliefs is a key weapon in the war against religious fanaticism and the terrorism that it breeds," adding, "Remember, it was ideas -- the ideals of democracy allied to the free market -- as much as the economic collapse of the Soviet Union that brought the West victory in the cold war."

Murdoch noted, "The free flow of information is not just a building block of our democratic system; it is also the fuel of the technological revolution."

As the world's media audience continued to change, Murdoch said that the challenge for traditional media was how to engage the new informational consumer.

"There is only one way," he said. "That is by using our skills to create and distribute dynamic, exciting content. 'King Content,' the Economist called it recently. But -- and this is a very big BUT -- newspapers will have to adapt as their readers demand news and sport on a variety of platforms: Web sites, iPods, mobile phones or laptops."

Murdoch added that while he believe traditional newspapers had "many years of life left" that the future of "newsprint and ink will be just one of many channels to our readers."

The News Corp. head noted that newspapers had already created large audiences for their content online by providing such value-added features as e-mail alerts, blogs, interactive debate, and podcasts.

"Content is being repurposed to suit the needs of a contemporary audience," he said "This divergence from the traditional platform of newsprint will continue, indeed accelerate for a while."

Focusing on one of New Corp's recent Net investments in particular -- MySpace.com -- Murdoch noted of this "social networking" site on the Internet that it was popular with millions of young users (aged mainly between 16 and 34) who "talk online to each other about music, film, dating, travel, whatever interests them," adding that users share pictures, videos and blogs, forming virtual communities.

"Since launch just two years ago, the site has acquired sixty million registered users, thirty five million of whom are regular users. This is a generation, now popularly referred to as the "myspace generation", talking to itself in a world without frontiers," Murdoch said. "It is just one example of how the media, with its ability to reach millions with information, entertainment and education can use the achievements of technology to create better and more interesting lives for a great many people."

Murdoch's speech came amid a Monday that saw news of the sale of the Knight Ridder news chain to the McLatchy Company at what some analyst said was a bargain basement price (of $4.5 billion) based on the fact that the traditional news industry has stalled in terms of profit growth.

Also, in a sign of the changing times, the New York Times announced Tuesday that it will drop its daily stock and bond listings as of April 4 in its hardcopy edition. The New York Times joins the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune which also recently began cutting hardcopy publication of voluminous stock information in favor of publishing it online.

© 2006 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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