Leaders embrace media, new and old

January 27, 2009

TWO cultures. Two leaders. Two media approaches.

One is trying to get around government rules to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to the fans. The other wants to guarantee the future of newspapers in his society, supporting publishers by giving subscriptions to teenagers.

It is hard to imagine how two globally-popular leaders could view the media world through such different prisms.

Perhaps it is their surroundings: Barack Obama lives in the America that popularised IT, commercialized the Internet and wants everything faster; Nicolas Sarkozy’s France is proud, resists outside influences and wants to live life in its own way at its own pace.

For a newspaper publisher, the France of Sarkozy would surely seem more appealing. The French president announced last Friday that every French teenager turning 18 will be given a one-year subscription to a newspaper of their choice.

Sacre blue! Sound too good to be true… it is, sort of. Publishers will give away the copies and the government will pay for the delivery – the Franco-equivalent of paying the newsagent 25 percent of the cover price to sling a paper over your fence while driving by at 20kmph; hopefully before you’ve left for work.

For any newspaper circulation manager, the art of good career management now will be to retire before Sarkozy loses office and his successor ends that policy.

Sarkozy’s generosity does not stop at free newspapers for young people. He is going to double the advertising spend of his government exclusively in newspapers – the opposite to the recent decision of the New South Wales government, which has a freeze on our industry, inflicting senseless commercial pain on publishers such as News Ltd and Fairfax Media.

Nicolas Sarkozy... pushing the cause of French newspapers

Nicolas Sarkozy... pushing the cause of French newspapers

Concerned about the current fortunes of French newspaper companies, which publish globally renowned titles such as Le Monde, Sarkozy said it was a government’s responsibility to “make sure an independent, free and pluralistic press exists”.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said much the same at PANPA 08 last September, pointing out that rarely had there been a time when the quality of debate was more important. Amen to that, though it is hard to imagine Rudd including a free newspaper subscription tagged on to the baby bonus, a first-homeowners grant or another of his economic stimuli. If you think he should consider that, you might want to Twitter him.

Twittering can reach other leaders, too, including Obama… once he has got around the red tape of White House IT security.

He has already won his battle keep his Blackberry. His aides are now fighting to ensure the new media strategies that helped drive his campaign – Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and the humble email – are not denied to his communications team. The New York Times is portraying this internal White House stoush as a bid by Obama to circumvent traditional media. The Times cites the case of a new team called Organising for America, which aims to use new media to galvanise public support for policy changes in health, fiscal policy and the environment – all topics on which modern-era presidents have clashed with the House of Representatives and, subsequently, failed to achieve major improvement.

Organising for America will be housed within the Democratic National Committee instead of the White House – thus getting around all the tech tittle-tattle about security.

Other rules that govern White House behavior, too. Obama cannot press the button – the send button – to e-mail his database of 13 million. Using the Organising for America vehicle, he can.

Already, Obama is changing the way things are done. America’s famous presidential fireside radio chats, which were started by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, have been replaced by a Youtube video. Obama posted it on Saturday and by Sunday afternoon it had been downloaded by 600,000. Whether anyone watched all or some of it, who knows.

Such media body language by a president cannot come at a more difficult time for American newspaper companies, which are suffering deep falls in ad revenue, high debt and business models that generally lack the punch of those in Europe, Asia and Australia and New Zealand.

Should Obama be as worried about his newspaper industry as the auto and financial sectors concern him? Sarkozy’s media policy would suggest he should. It is hard to make a case for overt government assistance to newspapers; there are so many media opportunities that any changes in newspaper buying habits – either by the reader or advertiser – can be offset in the medium term by new investments, better business practices and so on.

Yet, Sarkozy is not worried so much about newspapers but what they do – allow society to have meaningful and sustained debate, and provide the best staffed and qualified newsrooms of any media.

Obama holds the hopes of the world in so many important ways – but let us also hope he does not fool himself that an individual jumping online and pledging support for him with a click of a mouse represents meaningful debate.

For that, our societies continue to rely on our newspapers. Sarkozy knows that without them, we would all be so much poorer.


Welcome to the new industry hub

October 2, 2008

If you ever went to the old PANPA website, this new effort will be a bit of a surprise, if not a shock.

The static brochure-ware is gone. We have built a basic site riddled with Web 2.0 technologies on a budget of pretty much zero. Unashamedly, we are trying to create a site that promotes the spirit of community, where media colleagues – especially those from newspapers and online properties –  can discuss the future of their industry in an open and respectful environment.

We are using an internet device much derided by too many journalists – the blog. Those who characterise this publishing tool as evil, ill-educated, untrustworthy or whatever their gripe is, just don’t get it. Blogging has a power that gives everyone the ability to create and comment.

So why has PANPA (finally) got the blogging bug? Read the rest of this entry »


August 24, 2008

Welcome to the blog of PANPA CEO, Mark Hollands.