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Journalists are embracing the move to multimedia, says Bowdler

Regional newspaper journalists are embracing the move to multimedia as the industry responds to market demands, Johnston Press chief executive Tim Bowdler has said.

But newspapers will continue to play an important part too, he said, dismissing the notion that their audience is dead as “fanciful”.

He was speaking at a Journalism Leaders Forum hosted by the University of Central Lancashire, which considered the challenges of leading the move to multimedia.

The newspaper boss joined a panel discussion chaired by former Cumbrian Newspapers editorial director Keith Sutton, which also included Tim Porter, an associate director of Tomorrow’s Workforce – a project devoted to professional development in America’s newsrooms, The Guardian’s Simon Waldman and Geert-Jan Bogaerts, online editor of De Volkskrant newspaper in The Netherlands.

Topics under the spotlight included how newspapers were being affected by the rise of the Internet and what the media industry as a whole was doing to reach the widest possible audience.

The panelists were asked if newspapers were dying on their feet because of the Internet, but Tim Bowdler said that although the business model had changed, there would still be a demand for newspapers.

He said: “Companies like Johnston Press are investing heavily in the opportunities that digital channels present. It is a recognition of the fact that audiences will choose the way which they want to consume news, information, content.

“Our business is essentially about delivering that audience to advertisers.

“But I have no doubt whatsoever that in the media mix a long time ahead the newspaper is going to have an important part to play. It continues to be a media that people do want and do consume, but it is only one part of the media mix.

“Our job as local community publishers is to make sure we follow the consumer and that we have the resources available to meet that market need.”

The challenges faced in changing the way the industry works was also discussed as Tim Porter said there was a need for a “cultural change in the workplace” and Keith Sutton said he still heard journalists asking why companies were putting energies into the Internet and “creating competition for ourselves”.

The forum also heard that many journalists associated the changes with cost-cutting and job losses.

But Tim Bowdler said his experience was that journalists were welcoming the multimedia shift with “real enthusiasm” and newsrooms were “queuing up to be first”.

He said: “I don’t have a gloomy view here at all. This idea that journalists are incredibly resistant and newspapers are facing a losing battle – on the contrary.

“If we go back three or four years ago, I travelled round newsrooms and talked to people and we had websites but there was a general reluctance to update these sites weekly, never mind daily on a continuing basis.

“But I have to say there has been a real sea change. Journalists are intelligent people and they can see the way the world is moving.

“Their motivation is in reaching the audience and getting their message across to more and more people and communicating with them, and all we are doing is giving them the means to do that.”