Media landscape challenging, but full of new opportunities: TCH new media head

The challenges faced by media companies in a fast-changing sector have brought new pressures and opportunities to the industry, according to Tom Crosbie who is head of new media at Thomas Crosbie Holdings.

Writing in the wake of comments by company chairman Alan Crosbie this week that new media had the potential to negatively impact journalism and society he said of the debate that followed: “This kind of debate just could not have happened without the internet, and society is clearly better off with a free-flow of information.”

He added that there was “a challenge to ensure there is accurate, unbiased reporting of facts in a world of spin” and that he feared for professional journalism as the business in which reporters work come under increasing pressure.

He said TCH was committed to exploring the opportunities of new media with online properties such as BreakingNews.ie, RecruitIreland.com, a new hyperlocal project called AllAbout and a number of other initiatives.

His full comments are below, and are open to reaction from readers in the comments section underneath.

Text of comments by Tom Crosbie, head of new media at TCH:

There has been much good online debate this week since our Chairman (and my second cousin) Alan Crosbie spoke in Dublin at a conference on Media Diversity last Monday.

This kind of debate just could not have happened without the internet, and society is clearly better off with the free-flow of information that the miracle of the open web provides. For anyone who hasn’t read his speech it can be accessed here – it is better to judge what he actually says rather than what other people say he said!

However there is a difference between debate and original reporting. Good journalism comes at a price and it is getting harder to get paid for it. Ultimately there is a challenge to ensure there is accurate, unbiased reporting of facts in a world of spin, PR and agendas.

I fear for the journalistic trade, a trade that is not just eroded by the antics of some red tops, but that has also come under pressure because the businesses that journalists work for are also under pressure. While I would never describe myself as a journalist (a pedantic engineer more like) some of my forebears did describe themselves with pride, as such as evidenced by the entry on the family record in the 1901 census.

To be clear about agendas, probably all of the current Irish newspaper titles were founded to espouse a particular agenda, some political, some more commercial, but all looking to both inform and influence in some shape or form.

The current newspaper landscape is dominated by the survivors from a distant time and I suppose would have been said by Darwin to be the ones that have had the best ability to adapt to the constant change over the decades.

But has the environment changed so much now that they are like the transatlantic liners of the 1960s (lets leave the poor dinosaurs alone!) looking up at the jets in the sky as they try to carve through the ocean as fast as they can.

All of the main Irish newspaper companies have reasonably decent online operations but I don’t believe any of them has been prepared to commit fully as to do so would only cut their own throat.

Paywalls in front of generalist newspaper sites only tends to deflect readers elsewhere while free undermines the paid for product. And newspapers need the paid for product to pay salaries every month as purely private commercial entities.

RTÉ does not suffer the same conflict regarding a paid for product to defend and so embraces the new media channels more easily. Further they are helped by a licence fee which is soon to change to a full tax on all households.

Another factor in all this is classified advertising – the once wonderful preserve of newspapers as TV and radio were unsuited to compete. The migration of this business has significant consequences for newspapers as classified are both good reading matter as well as revenue. How ironic it is that it appears that the classified revenue generated by the excellent property vertical Daft appears to be funding one of the newer news sites The Journal.

Social Media is the wonder of the current age and is changing the way many people not just consume information but live their lives. I don’t pretend to understand it fully but I believe we are living through a generational experiment. I do however believe in human ingenuity and think we will ultimately as a society find ways of making the best of it, provided that the rules and safeguards are put in place to ensure the abusers don’t prosper.

In the general debate about media diversity should anyone really care about the fate of newspapers. Obviously I do as both an employee and employer of what is primarily a newspaper company as do our 600 odd staff and their families. But should anyone else care?

I could go on a rant (as this is on the internet!) about copyright and libel and how the rules appear to be different for web to print, although the law is the law. There is no doubt that the wholesale pilfering and repackaging of content does undermine paid journalism and as citizens we probably should be concerned about the long term effect.

I have seen in blogs and comment in recent days how it is the newspapers own fault for the dilemma that they find themselves in with online so for the uninitiated let me try to quickly explain the more significant online operations of TCH.

The biggest online news site in our group is BreakingNews.ie. It employs its own journalists as well as freelancers and further sources copy through news agencies. It generates revenue through advertising and syndication services and adds value to our other websites by bringing a constant feed of up-to-the-minute information.

We do have a decent recruitment portal in RecruitIreland.com which has gone some way to replacing the job advertising revenue of the older print products but on a very different basis.

The Sunday Business Post has recently launched a seven day web service and the newspaper content itself went behind a paywall on BusinessPost.ie.

One of our daily papers the Irish Examiner publishes most of its print content online free of charge and generates some revenue for ancillary subscriptions and advertising – you can also buy digitial versions of the daily print products but our Evening paper content is kept offline in the main for commercial reasons.

We currently have an interesting project underway called All About, an hyper-local primarily social media aggregation idea which attempts to put journalists back in the centre of communities.

For me in TCH - I see many fantastic people working on differing media platforms doing their utmost to provide timely, interesting and accurate information that helps to both inform and entertain, and trying to make a living while doing so.

Anyway on with the debate. Judge us as you may but hopefully fairly. And to any one who thinks “To hell with him and good riddance” I suspect that’s where we might meet!

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