Editors discussed the challenges their newspapers and magazines face in a digital world
Be it cause for "concern" or a field of "opportunities", the internet was an issue regularly raised by witnesses at the Leveson inquiry in recent weeks, and while these discussions were often not the most headline-grabbing portions of the evidence hearings, they do offer interesting insight into how mainstream news outlets, and in particular their editors, view the challenges and opportunities of the web.
With the first module now "provisionally completed" we have searched through the transcripts and collected together just some of the comments made by national newspaper and magazine editors to Lord Justice Leveson earlier this year in relation to the internet, including how to handle regulation of online content, breaking news and rumour on social media and the issue of content published outside this country's jurisdiction.
On tackling the global scale of the web:
Paul Dacre, Daily MailThe fact that it is called the World Wide Web is literally true, and the centre of the global newspaper business is the not the UK now, it's no longer the UK, but the USPaul Dacre
"If the mainstream media in Britain is unable to address news stories that are freely available elsewhere, we will look increasingly irrelevant especially to younger people. I only say this because I said to you earlier that this week Mail Online became the world's biggest website with over 100 million unique users and that's eloquent evidence that there is a huge demand for British journalism globally.
"The fact that it is called the World Wide Web is literally true, and the centre of the global newspaper business is not the UK now, it's no longer the UK, but the US. In that sense the Internet is the embodiment of the first empire and I would ask that the editor of the Mail Online put in a paper to this Inquiry to outline the huge problems that the Internet poses both for the printed press and regulation."
John Witherow, the Sunday Times
"Well, clearly any kind of regulation that comes out of this process I think has to take into account what goes on on the Internet, and as we transit to digital platforms, we are bound by self-regulation at the moment and will continue to be so. But the great threat to us, I think, is that there will be out there unregulated media who can base themselves offshore and can avoid regulation, and I think this is a great dilemma facing us: how do we go ahead with a responsible press or digital media in this country while there are those rogue elements out there?"
On the growing individual powers on social platforms:
James Harding, the Times
"If you look at the speed with which individuals are gaining really huge followings on Twitter, for example, or through Facebook or through their blogs, you're seeing individuals have huge readership, sometimes bigger than national newspapers, and I think it will feel, we'll very quickly feel as though we're in a strange world, where there are significant constraints on publishing in a newspaper or beneath the masthead of a newspaper but those can easily be circumvented through any digital means of communication."
On regulating the digital world:
Dominic Mohan, the SunI think the combination of an over-regulated press with an unregulated internet is a very, very worrying thoughtDominic Mohan
"I think one thing I would ask out of this inquiry is that the internet and the press, that there's a level playing field in terms of the way they're dealt with, because I do think it could be a potentially mortal blow to the newspaper industry that's already wounded. I think the combination of an over-regulated press with an unregulated internet is a very, very worrying thought for an industry that employs many thousands of people."
Tony Gallagher, the Telegraph
"I'm, as I say, greatly attracted by the idea of an arbitral service which could be provided by the new body. I think if that arbitral service was low cost, it might be a great way of embracing the Internet news providers ... if they realise that their access to that cheap and quick arbitral system would be contingent upon joining the new body, that would be wholly desirable."
Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian
"It's a fact of life that we're all on the path to being increasingly digital organisations and that brings us into competition with a whole digital world that didn't exist ten years ago. You can't escape the fact that the more regulated we are, that is going to place us at some disadvantage to people who aren't, but I think I would like to play up the advantages of that, because I think, again, if the argument that we're making for journalism is that we operate to a ... professional code of standards and ethics, that should be an advantage in branding what we do and we shouldn't worry too much and become too obsessed by all these people who are out there who aren't, who don't operate by that kind of code."
On offering a 'kite-marking' system for online content providers:
Chris Blackhurst, the Independent
"Obviously one area of concern is the Internet, but it strikes me that there's an enormous amount of concern about people blogging and saying what they like on the internet, but how often does it actually come back to the story not being true until a recognisable, reputable news organisation has actually reported it? And that happens all the time.
"Yes, there's a blogosphere out there, but ... until it's on the BBC reporting it, or until it's in the Independent, the Guardian, the Times or the Sun or whatever, it's not regarded as true. Therefore, some type of badging, whether it's kite marks or standards or whatever, could easily be applied. If you want that standard, you have to play by these rules. I don't see that as, it wouldn't affect the way I go about my business as a journalist, and would not affect the way the Independent goes about its business
Richard Wallace, the Daily MirrorIn the world of the internet, there is just a lot of noise, and what the consumers are seeking and business is seeking is some kind of orderRichard Wallace
"I think there is already an opportunity here, and we just need to grasp it. Whatever this inquiry kind of throws up as a new body, I believe that there is a willingness in the digital world amongst internet news providers to themselves sign up to some kind of framework because it gives them, frankly, cachet. In the world of the internet, there is just a lot of noise, and what the consumers are seeking and business is seeking is some kind of order, and I think that legitimate bloggers, legitimate Internet news providers would welcome the opportunity to join such a body, to be kite-marked or branded in some kind of way, because it would have a direct effect on their businesses."
On making money:
John Witherow, the Sunday Times
"Newspapers are caught up in an absolute revolution at the moment. We've never had a challenge like this in more than 200 years, far greater than radio or television, because we're being challenged by the printed word online, digitally, and the vision for any newspaper is: how do you continue to publish in print and digitally and seek to try and make enough money to fund good journalism? Going forward is, that transit is: how long will print survive? How do we make digital tablets and the internet profitable? And it's one of the biggest challenges facing publishing since we first started."
Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian
"There is this ferocious digital revolution coming along and we're in the teeth of that at the time of maximum economic disruption. There are huge opportunities there. I made the point in my supplementary statement that the Guardian is now a very considerable global player, but there are huge challenges in terms of making, of finding, the convincing business model, so I want to see Guardian journalism continue and thrive, although whether and to what extent that is in print or in digital is a sort of second order matter."
Ian Hislop, Private Eye
"I think I'd probably said something along the lines of: a generation that wants everything for free has already meant it's very difficult to make films, it's difficult to make records and now it's saying, "I want journalism for free", and I think we should try and resist it. I disagree with a number of my colleagues here, but I cannot see why journalism, which, at its best, is a terrifically noble craft, should be given away, and people who can analyse information, write well, entertainingly, informatively, should have everything they do just taken from them. I mean, if we're looking at other countries, I was hugely heartened to see Le Canard Enchaine has a website which just says literally: 'Go and buy the paper.' They're doing very well."
On adapting editorial processes:
Tony Gallagher, the Telegraph
"In classic newsrooms, stories tend to be written and then routed through the news editor, who will then route them to the editor and discuss the importance of them. With the internet and the need for speed of delivery, as we compete against internet news providers, we took a decision a couple of years ago to ensure that experienced reporters were effectively able to bypass the news desk, which would allow them to self-publish their stories and have them peer-reviewed pretty much instantly. But that was mainly for what I would describe as non-contentious news stories rather than anything that would be particularly controversial."
Transcripts for the evidence heard orally during the initial part of the inquiry are available on the inquiry website, along with copies of written statements from witnesses.
- You can follow-up on all of Journalism.co.uk's coverage of the Leveson inquiry so far at this link.