"For a business that doesn't make a lot of money, it's a very exciting and interesting business," Guardian News and Media's international director Tony Danker says about journalism.
He explained some of the key challenges of being a legacy player in "an incredibly dynamic and challenging" environment and the Guardian's possible solutions, speaking at a Westminster Media Forum event in London today.
The first of the "three things that we sit and obsess about at the Guardian" is the "massive change to consumption".When your industry is cannibalising... the right answer is always to rush to the futureTony Danker, the Guardian
The growing number of platforms which readers use to find stories online is naturally an important consideration for publishing and sharing stories, but it also brings with it new ways audiences can engage with publishers.
The interesting implications of these changes, said Danker, are not the new questions around distribution but the opportunities for people to participate in journalism themselves, uploading, sharing and commenting on content, and "that's a fundamental change".
The new set of competitors is next on Danker's list, and he pointed to the "very deep pockets" of some of the state-funded outlets and new players in the industry.
There's a lot of money coming into the future of digital journalism, he said, as outlets such as BuzzFeed or Vice make new hires in cases when similar moves at legacy media outlets would be seen as resulting in "losses" rather than "investments".
The rapid changes shaping a new world of advertising, like the growth of programmatic, represent another challenge for legacy media outlets, Danker explained, and are "massively changing the way we all have to do business".
So what should legacy media organisations do to avoid being left behind by startups and other digitally native media outlets?
'Rush to the future'
"When your industry is cannibalising," said Danker, "the right answer is always to rush to the future. It is never to protect the past.
"If you're an established news organisation and you're not trying to be – not only as digital – but more digital than the digital startups, you're just making a massive strategic mistake."
Follow the reader
Readers have moved first from print to digital, then from desktop to mobile, and now they are leaving media outlets' own platforms in favour of social networks, chat apps, and other spaces that are not owned by what we would traditionally call media companies but by technology giants like Google or Facebook.
"Essentially you have to follow the reader", said Danker. "If you are not thinking about these distribution platforms then you're going to find yourself having a problem."
Choose a business model
He explained that while there is no proven winning business model for established media brands in the digital space, there is no room for ambiguity either. Different options are now emerging, he said, from the Guardian's open model to the full paywall of The Times.
So how is the Guardian addressing these challenges? Danker highlighted some of the outlet's choices for the near future – and the Guardian has placed its hopes on what it calls "journalism that matters".
In other words, Danker said the organisation believes in authenticity, or bringing the readers into the journalistic process, and in being influential by taking a stand and having a point of view – the type of campaigning journalism UK outlets have traditionally found success with.
Commercially, the Guardian is banking on its global reach, and is not the only legacy media outlet to do so.
"Us and the Mail and others are basically now in the global news business," Danker explained. "We're chasing markets around the world, our open strategy allows us to do that."
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