Blair’s speech on British media culture was brave, perceptive and brilliant. But so far, I haven’t seen the media reports quote (what for me is) the key passage of the speech:
Newspapers fight for a share of a shrinking market. Many are now read on-line, not the next day. Internet advertising has overtaken newspaper ads. There are roughly 70 million blogs in existence, with around 120,000 being created every day. In particular, younger people will, less and less, get their news from traditional outlets.
But, in addition, the forms of communication are merging and interchanging. The BBC website is crucial to the modern BBC. Papers have Podcasts and written material on the web. News is becoming increasingly a free good, provided online without charge. Realistically, these trends won’t do anything other than intensify.
These changes are obvious. But less obvious is their effect. The news schedule is now 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It moves in real time. Papers don’t give you up to date news. That’s already out there. They have to break stories, try to lead the schedules. Or they give a commentary.
Speaking as someone who has worked in precisely this arena through the Blair years, swapping between media and government roles, the effect was actually very obvious to me. If newspapers are to serve any continuing purpose, it has to be either (a) creating news or (b) commenting on it. Simply reporting the facts after the event is pointless, when the TV channels probably broadcast it all live, the news websites summarised it, and video clips have probably hit YouTube within hours. Ask the sports reporters – they arrived at this point several years ago. Read the next day’s press coverage of any big football match, and you’re unlikely to find much detail about the actual match. And why should you? – we probably all saw it on Sky anyway.
It’s naive to turn this into a ‘New Labour’ issue. Blair’s dozen years in the limelight – from his election as Labour leader to his departure in a matter of days – have coincided with a decade of revolution in communication and journalism. Neither Blair nor Alastair Campbell caused this; nor indeed could they have prevented it.
Blair’s words today are clearly those of a man who no longer has to worry about political survival. The response in tomorrow morning’s leader columns will be vicious – because the newspapers’ survival remains very much a live issue.