Future of newspapers dominates conference agenda

Media Future event features strong contribution from novelist Roddy Doyle

Novelist Roddy Doyle blamed the Irish secondary school system for causing the groupthink which was the reason “the country was now “f****ed”. Photograph: Jacob Blickenstaff

Novelist Roddy Doyle blamed the Irish secondary school system for causing the groupthink which was the reason “the country was now “f****ed”. Photograph: Jacob Blickenstaff

Tue, May 14, 2013, 20:43

Subjects ranging from building loveable robots to how to launch a premium brand of denim jeans were among the more unusual topics covered at a conference on the future of media in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, today.

The Media Future Conference, in the Pavilion Theatre, featured a strong contribution from novelist Roddy Doyle, who blamed the Irish secondary school system for stamping out creativity, causing the groupthink which was the reason “the country was now “f****ed”. Doyle was speaking about his work with the Dublin-based young people’s creative writing centre Fighting Words, but most speakers focused on the future of journalism - newspapers in particular - in an era of decline for traditional print brands across the Western world.

A wide range of international speakers working at the intersection of digital technology and traditional media spoke about the transition the industry is going through, including the ongoing debate about charging users for reading content. Sarah McInerney of The Sunday Times acknowledged that the online version of that newspaper’s Irish edition which she said was known within the company as the “regional edition”, was “not doing well”.

Both Nick Blunden, of The Economist, and Piers Jones of the Guardian spoke of their companies’ respective investments in digital platforms, in social media and in new multimedia formats such as online audio, video and data visualisation to reach large new international audiences. The Economist has had considerable success with its paid content model in recent years, building on what was described as an expanding market for “smarter” information. By contrast, the Guardian’s content is still largely free to use, although Jones said the company’s digital revenues had been “very good” over the last year.

Other speakers discussed the changes in the practice of journalism as the lines between print and digital become increasingly blurred. Dearbhail McDonald of the Irish Independent described the positive and negative aspects of having to “relentlessly serve the web” as well as having to provide more reflective, in-depth coverage for print.

The overall picture was of a media industry in the throes of unprecedented turbulence and change. Other journalists spoke of how they were increasingly expected by their employers to engage with readers via social media platforms such as Twitter, and therefore to become brands in their own right.

Markham Nolan of the Dublin-based new media startup Storyful, which monitors and mines platforms such as YouTube for stories, spoke about the “dark social” parts of the Internet, the parts of the web which are largely invisible right now.

Other speakers included Alex Koppelman of The New Yorker, Mark Stencel of National Public Radio in the US and Shazna Nessa, former interactive and innovations chief of the Associated Press who insisted that there was still “a real hunger for news” and that it didn’t matter whether that was delivered on print or digital.

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