So...a week (and a bit) after I started writing it, a note about this blog.
I've been blogging in one form or another since 1999 (before it was called blogging and we just called them online diaries; oh yes, I remember when all this was fields) but this is the first blog in which I've deliberately sought to talk about my professional life rather than, out of what I suppose must have been either a sense of discretion or confidentiality, tried scrupulously to avoid any mention of it. (Such reservations already seem quaint, now we realise that in significantly less than a generation no-one will be able to seek employment or even public office without the adolescent follies recorded on the pages of MySpace or Facebook being laid bare to their potential employers or electorate.)
A substantial part of my job involves advising my employers - Associated New Media, the digital publishing arm of Associated Newspapers who print the Daily Mail, the Standard and Metro in the UK - on the competitive landscape for digital media and trying to work out what the future holds for us. Sharing some of those ideas in this blog is my shameless attempt to get a second opinion on those ideas, free of charge, from other people at other companies who are thinking about the same things. Why else do any of us do it?
Also, a few weeks ago Simon Waldman commented in an interview with Journalism.co.uk that "I hardly ever see personal blogs from staff at other newspapers or media organisations" - and, indeed, there only seems to be a handful, a lot of them are in the US, and so many of the good ones are written by people who work for the Guardian or consult to the Guardian or at the very least used to work for the Guardian until very recently. I figure one more media industry blog from someone who doesn't work for the Guardian can't do any harm, if only for the sake of balance.
I plan to use it to discuss what I increasingly think of as the widening gyre (indeed, this blog was almost called "The Widening Gyre" until I realised I'd then end up spending more of my time than I wanted explaining what a gyre was) - after the William Butler Yeats poem "The Second Coming":
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world"
The digital age has turned out to herald a period of ever-widening gyres; of the centre not holding and the "people formerly known as the audience" (how I love that phrase!) spiralling away from traditional centres of authority to create their own media and their own rules for allocating their attention. The "audience" is fragmenting, even atomising, and the challenge for news publishers is less the old zero-sum game of capturing the loyalty of as much of the newspaper-reading public as possible and more one of serving specific needs at specific times in specific niches in whatever media users appear to want them. As the gyre widens and the audiences attenuate the challenge for media is to attenuate with them.
Newspapers must survive this period of transformation - the functions they serve, of providing not only facts upon which the public can reasonably expect to rely but a range of considered opinions and to some extent the communal identities of the clerisy are too important to lose. Spinoza said that "given a fair arena of debate, truth will prevail over falsehood", and newspapers are a crucial ingredient not only in ensuring the ongoing fairness of the debate but also preserving the cogent articulation within that debate of legitimately competing points of view.
What are we doing about all this? Andy Hart, Associated's digital MD, commented at length on that very subject in the Independent a week ago (although a week having passed the article is now behind the Independent's paywall and it'll cost you a pound to see it).
It's been an interesting and challenging fifteen years for media companies since Tim Berners-Lee sat down and said "hang on lads, I've had a great idea". Happily for those of us whose jobs it is to think about where we go from here, it doesn't look like there's any danger of it getting less interesting any time soon.