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Bring me your Huddled Murdochs!

By John Hartley - posted Wednesday, 27 April 2005

As usual when thinking about how things might go in Australia, I started to think about the US. This time, thinking about digital coming of age, I began to think about one of America’s more prominent immigrants, Rupert Murdoch.

Mr Murdoch has evidently been thinking about immigration himself recently. Paying tribute to his own status as “part of the most recent wave of immigrants attracted by the bright beacon of American liberty”, he has entered the political fray in the US on the side of the immigrant. Like other business leaders - but unlike rank and file Republicans and vigilante “minutemen” - he has lined up to support moves by President Bush to introduce “guest worker” legislation and reform immigration laws.

Along the way Mr Murdoch made some remarks that even the Australian government ought to heed. In a speech reported in the Wall St Journal’s online Opinion Journal late last year, he said:


We'll never fix the problem of illegal immigration simply by throwing up walls and trying to make all of us police them. We've tried that for a decade or so now, and it's been a flop. What we need to do first is to make it easier for those who seek honest work to do so without having to disobey our laws.

More recently Mr Murdoch has turned his attention to another kind of immigration. It seems that he himself has recently “come of age” - digitally. Here he is speaking earlier this month to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, admitting that he was wrong to ignore the “digital revolution”. He confessed, “as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly, I didn’t do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the late 1990s”:

I come to this discussion not as an expert with all the answers, but as someone searching for answers to an emerging medium that is not my native language. Like many of you in this room, I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t weaned on the web, nor coddled on a computer. Instead, I grew up in a highly centralised world where news and information were tightly controlled by a few editors, who deemed to tell us what we could and should know.

Murdoch contrasted his own upbringing in the tightly controlled world of centralised editorship with that of his two young daughters (as opposed to his four adult children): "My two young daughters, on the other hand, will be digital natives. They’ll never know a world without ubiquitous broadband internet access."

It did take Rupert Murdoch quite a long time to realise he was a “digital immigrant” as opposed to a “digital native”. The terms were coined back in 2001 by Marc Prensky in On the Horizon, (pdf file 58KB). But now that he’s got the message, Mr Murdoch is up for the challenge:

The peculiar challenge then, is for us digital immigrants - many of whom are in positions to determine how news is assembled and disseminated - to apply a digital mindset to a new set of challenges. We need to realise that the next generation of people accessing news and information, whether from newspapers or any other source, have a different set of expectations about the kind of news they will get, including when and how they will get it, where they will get it from, and who they will get it from.


Mr Murdoch warns, “we must free our minds of our prejudices and predispositions, and start thinking like our newest consumers”. He describes what these “digital natives” want:

… they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle … One commentator, Jeff Jarvis, puts it this way: give the people control of media, they will use it. Don’t give people control of media, and you will lose them.

And here’s what Jeff Jarvis himself has to say about that, on his blog Buzz Machine: “I was impressed to see Murdoch giving this warning to the nation's august editors - and also impressed to see him embracing new ways to do things, including citizens media”.

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About the Author

John Hartley is an ARC Federation Fellow and research director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at QUT. He is the author and editor of many books and articles in the field of cultural, media and journalism studies, including Creative Industries (published by Blackwell, Oxford, 2005).

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