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Business: A Dirty Word in Media?

Tom Glocer: I think journalists should be well paid. By and large these are very clever, trained professionals who work hard to produce quality content. My issue has never been with journalism or with journalists. It’s how does the current economic model, which is based on holding on to something that was brilliant and easy for generations, but suddenly turned and is no longer that easy, by which I mean: think of the basic model that producing a newspaper today is built on. You chop down a tree somewhere in Canada or in Finland. You haul it out to a port. You put it on a boat. You ship it over to a paper plant somewhere. You converted it to wood pulp. You create this huge paper rolls. Those get taken to a printing plant. That day’s newspaper gets printed on it. It gets distributed to people like me who read it as much cover-to-cover as I can. Others who get it in front of their door rushing out of a hotel room and throw it in the bin. And then it’s all recycled again.

If you’re going to invent what will be an efficient substrate to publish on, would you ever come up with something that is both so environmentally and economically inefficient? If I could give you instead a flexible, plastic, reusable printing device which you can carry around with you just as conveniently as a newspaper but which would refresh overnight with not one but as many old style papers as you wanted. But you didn’t have to turn to A13 to get the jump, but you could just scroll down with a finger, and what would have been on page A13 would fly to the front page.

That’s a very good user experience, and guess what, if I could also now search classifieds, which is something that seriously disrupted the newspaper model, but once I reunite electronic with what we thought of as paper, well hey, maybe the newspaper model comes back to working.

I always ask myself the question, “Can you abstract from the technology of the day?“ What we call paper at one point was animal skin, then it was papyrus, and yes for a very long time it’s been wood paper pulp based. But that doesn’t mean what we think of as paper for the next 500 years has to be built on that process.

That’s the part that I find so remarkable. That these wonderful institutions full of very clever people insist that journalism dies, and maybe the democracy dies, if they can’t print on trees anymore. I just fundamentally don’t buy that.


Recorded on: May 29 2009.

CEO of Thomson Reuters, Tom Glocer, disputes that journalism is dead.

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