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Dow Jones boss slams digital players for serving up ‘junk food masquerading as journalism’

The boss of News Corp’s Wall Street Journal owner Dow Jones has attacked digital-only media firms, accusing outlets such as Buzzfeed of churning out “made-up lists masquerading as journalism”.NewsMediaWorks Will Lewis

Will Lewis, speaking today the NewsMediaWorks Future Forum in Sydney, launched a robust defence of traditional media companies, insisting the “trust and quality” they deliver in their journalism will prevail.

“When it comes to consuming the content that matters, people will choose healthy eating over digital junk food,” he said. “Trust and confidence in our journalism, I think, is now winning.”

Lewis told delegates that print remained critical and warned media firms contemplating ditching their flagship titles that it would be a grave mistake.The Independent 2 mastheads

He cited the demise of The Independent in the UK as an example of the flawed strategy, arguing the publication now merely has a “pitiful graveyard of a website”.

Lewis pulled no punches in a withering assessment of digital players.

“The appetite for quality journalism is as keen as ever,” he said. “It is perhaps even keener as audiences find that the fare slopped out by the new entrants and aggregators pumped up on steroid-like venture capital funding isn’t quite to their taste.”

People remain highly engaged with news brands they trust for their quality reach and honesty, he said.

Lewis: "Advertisers want to be associated with facts and stimulating opinion not made up lists masquerading as journalism"

Lewis: “Advertisers want to be associated with facts and stimulating opinion, not made up lists masquerading as journalism”

Turning to Buzzfeed, Lewis noted that it “seems to be splitting in two” and mocked its mantra to become a leading news provider.

“It wants to house all its lists and infotainment in one department, allowing Buzzfeed news to focus on becoming – and I quote: “the number one global news brand for the new generation”.

“Good luck under that harsh spotlight, folks, because the evidence is clear. Readers want to read, and advertisers want to be associated with, facts and stimulating opinion not made up lists masquerading as journalism.”

Lewis said consumers are increasingly prepared to pay for quality content and said those who “sniggered” at paywalls, and who thought they could build a business model based on “eyeballs”, are now “blubbing into their organically brewed beer”.

“They once boasted of their global reach and they bathed in a sense of their own worthiness, all catastrophically unprofitable and catastrophically unsustainable,” he said.

“Complacently, they waited for the digital ad dollars to roll in – they didn’t – guilty, I am afraid, of a gross dereliction of duty when it comes to protecting the future of journalists and journalism.

“Journalist freedom, rather than journalism for free is what we should all be about.”

Those who thought a business model could be built simply through “eyeballs” are being proved wrong, he said, and argued it was now “almost too late” for some.

“You cannot wish yourselves into a profitable business model to pay for journalism,” he told the conference. “You have to earn it through constant change and close attention to the customer.”

Lewis said Dow Jones was becoming a membership organisation in a move to grow subscriptions, to get closer to its readers and to reward loyalty.

“Rather like prevention is better that cure, we believe retention is better than costly reacquisition,” he said.

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