One tribute that seemed more significant than most as the baton passed last week and the retiring CEO of the Guardian Media Group, owner of The Observer and much else, hailed his newly designated successor. 'This is a first class appointment,' said Sir Robert Phillis. 'Carolyn McCall's drive, energy and understanding will ensure continuing success for GMG in the digital age.' It's that big 'D' word again: for direction, development, decision-making and, inevitably, digital.
Ahhh the "D" word
Yet pause for a moment and ask where else in Fleet Street the D word would figure when chairs change at the top.
Did the Barclays talk about digital futures when they hired Murdoch MacLennan from the Mail? Did the Mail, for that matter, mention such matters when it brought in Kevin Beatty from Northcliffe to replace him? The Ds that excite Richard Desmond are mostly divorce, dalliance and décolletage. Les Hinton at News International still comes home, metaphorically at least, with printers' ink on his hands - and, as Jeremy Warner, business editor of the Independent, frankly confessed the other day, Sir Tony O'Reilly's 'response to the internet has not, in truth, been a very ambitious one'
Its funny because some people/ CEO's of newspapers still think that customers will continue to read printed paper classifieds. No, they won't they will want their information as a rich experience with links, that are navigational, life enabling and life simplifying. There is so much more that can and eventually shall be done.
But lets get back to the Observer article, and of course how do you charge and make money? Well, the mobile internet is right round the corner, and it breathes life into, a very different business model, where advertising is content and content is advertising. BUT NOT SPAM. Kids don't read print as we experienced, but they are still interested in information. And want it fast/compacted hence the rise of compacted information flows like text messaging. They want experience
Take that Independent verdict on Sir Tony's lack of ambition. Warner, speaking at a Dow Jones business editors' conference, has his doubts. 'There's a very big and growing demand for professional products (on the web), content you can trust, which you know has been edited and obeys certain disciplines. The difficulty is how on earth you charge for it. People will not pay for it any more and it's a big, big problem.
What comes first: the news on paper, or the news on the net? Where is the main cutting edge of creativity and concern? How do you best manage or edit something in such profound, unpredictable transition? Are any of Fleet Street's finest true multi-media companies yet - or strings of newspapers with strong digital appendages?
Indeed a pressing question and serious issue. And it all comes back to value. What is value, when defined as a good experience for Digital Natives? How do you monetise that? How do you transfer attention into dollars? Because we all have to pay the bills - right? It is all about understanding information flows and how people now pull on information. Immediacy and passion based values now count for a great deal. I have come to realise over my long journey that, this is a paradigm shift which is not about tweaking our thinking. It requires a new framework to enable us look at and understand the world.
Murdoch divided the world between Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Different rules apply. I was told that I was the last of the generation that had caught the last train/ helicopter out of the old world and into the new.
Questions like these matter. For the moment, though, we're only at the beginning, surveying the April ABC sales results as they bring more bad news for the red-tops, more hilarity as another helping of bulks keeps the Daily Telegraph over 900,000, more cheer as Berliner and tabloid change keep the Independent on Sunday and Observer flying high. For the moment, old Fleet Street rules, still ploughing billions into new presses and lorries pounding along motorways in the night. For the moment, some papers are far down the future track and others have barely begun to look for a signpost. Fasten your safety belts.