Framing himself as the 21st century’s biggest fan of CP Scott’s most famous declaration, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber warned that digital publishers like Huffington Post and the Daily Beast should not put opinion before facts.
Speaking at the British Library on Wednesday, he warned that unlike newspapers such as the FT, “web insurgents have no such commitment to impartiality, let alone objectivity.”
He said: “On the contrary, many take delight in their partisanship and rumour-mongering. As Nick Denton, a former Financial Times reporter and now New York-based founder of Gawker – motto Today’s Gossip is Tomorrow’s News – once told the Washington Post: ‘We may inadvertently practise journalism. But that is not the institutional intention.'”
He went on: “New media often seems to walk on both sides of the fence: they shun the label of journalist but are happy to use it as a badge of respectability to hide their often deeply ideological agendas.”
But broadly, Barber was far more optimistic about digital insurgents than many of his industry colleagues or forebears. Bloggers are not all, he said, dressed in pyjamas writing at six in the morning.
As The Guardian and others noticed, Barber is in favour of ditching the Press Complaints Commission in favour of a new independent regulator – which would regulate HuffPo and the rest.
“Should the new system embrace new media such as the Huffington Post or individual political bloggers such as Guido Fawkes?” he said. “My answer is Yes, not simply in the interests of a level playing field but also because the distinction between old and new media are rapidly becoming meaningless in the new digital eco-system…”
However, that instinctive caution remains: “Yet with certain rights go certain obligations. As regards the content pirates, it is time they joined the merchant navy. Wholesale copying of original content cannot be considered a legitimate journalistic enterprise. Even powerful aggregators such as Google have recognised as much; others should follow suit.”
You can read the entire speech here and there are some good points in it, particularly on the industrialised nature of newspaper production. But if you’d rather hear it, here’s my audio of the second half:
I also stuck around for the Q&A, which raised some interesting points:
– China’s rise: What will he rise of China in the next few decades do to Western journalism? “We are all tilted eastward – we are going to have to put more journalists in China. It’s been a great story of inward investment and China’s impact on the world, but are going to see China investing itself and buying more companies. We are going to have to re-deploy.
“But still, America is very, very important for our coverage and will remain of huge interest to our readers.”
– Will all national newspapers start charging for content? “I hate to be proscriptive and we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom. Some national newspapers have said they can do very well from advertising.and good luck to them.
“It might be that newspapers are successful by selling related content created by their journalists… A mixed model will still be the answer. You cannot be too categorical about it.”
– Will the written world be superseded by video? “I have a daughter who’s 23 and a son who’s 21 and they do not read print. They do seem to multi-task.
“But my impression is that the printed word will still exist… but we are going to see the faces of great writers bring interviewed or profiled. The written word only decline relatively in importance.”
Plus, some up-to-date stats from Barber on the FT’s metered online/print model:
– The FT now has nearly four million registered users
– Combined paid print and digital of 585,000
– Combined print and digital average daily readership of over two million people worldwide.