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April 10, 2014updated 19 Feb 2015 10:19pm

Jason Seiken outlines his vision for leading ‘digital native’ Telegraph into journalism ‘golden age’

By Dominic Ponsford

Telegraph Media Group editor in chief Jason Seiken has outlined his vision for creating a "digitally native" news organisation which can thrive in a new "golden age" for journalism.
Speaking at the Newsworks conference in London (read full address here) he said: "The pessimists say we are living in desperate times…We are actually living in a golden age of journalism".
He said that historically "disrupting technology" has led to "better choices for consumers and better economics for producers".
He added: "We are also entering a golden age for journalists with new reporting tools that make me wish I was a young reporter once again."
Talking about his passion for newspapers Seiken said he does not want to live in a world where "my friends rely on Google to find out whether the government is spying on them" or where "voters rely on Buzzfeed to find out if MPs are fiddling their expenses".
He said: "That's not the world I want for my children." But he added: "Being the good guys isn't a business model."
Seiken said it was wrong to say that media fragmentation meant newspaper audiences were declining.
"The truth is the opposite. Last month 72m unique browsers visited, up 29 per cent year on year."
This figure for March comes ahead of the official ABC release and suggests a sharp increase in the rate of growth for which has been flattening out since it went behind a metered paywall in April last year.
He said that the Telegraph has increased its number of Facebook followers from 100,000 to 1.1m in the space of a year and that 64 per cent of them are aged 18-34 (compared with an average age of over 50 for print readers).
Outlining his vision for the future he said: "There is a case to be made that newspaper companies can't change quickly enough." And he said that those who thrive in the future will be the ones that are bold enough to embrace a "digital native culture".
"At the Telegraph we are in the midst of that transformation to become digitally native in practice as well as theory".
The end of the top-down editorial culture
Seiken said that making use of the the wealth of data now available about reader behaviour online was a key part of his vision.
"We know more about today's customer than ever before and if you aren't using data to listen to your customers, your competitors are.
"By definition this approach is turning newspaper tradition on its head.
"When I got into the news business the editor was king. He ran the show, he decided what was important what should be covered and published. He had an intuitive idea of what the audience wanted…Each day was a zero sum game to put out that day's newspaper, go home and do it again.
"Now I'd like nothing better than to go back to that time and be that guy, but in the digital age it just doesn't work.
"A top down command and control style can't grow today's newspaper because no one person has the skills in print, audio, video, interactive, data, text, mobile, social, SEO, analytics, infographics, blogging, click-through rates, click-to-open rates, conversion rates, subscription rates, bounce rates, time spent, revenue per page, yields, lifetime value, cost of acquisition, content syndication, apps, native advertising, acquisition opportunities, computers, phones, tablets, TV monitors, wearable computers, virtual reality goggles, and the soon to be released Apple i cerebellum brain implant or whatever technology is coming next.
"The choices are too broad and complex, and the expertise required in each discipline is too deep."
He said that he had worked with some great "top-down editors" in the past and that if they were working today they would be "leading the charge to build digital native cultures in their newsrooms.
"A culture where the editor sets the vision but then hires world class experts across a broad range of disciplines and creates an environment where they can do their best work. A culture where intuition still matters but data matters more.
"A culture that is less top down and more about empowering journalists and holding them accountable. A culture where staff in their twenties and thirties rise more rapidly than ever because in areas such as social media they are the true digital natives."
Seiken cited the Facebook company motto of "move fast and break things" and explained how in his last job at PBS he had created a "failure goal" that penalised staff who did not fail enough.
"If they weren't failing a certain number of times it meant they weren't challenging themselves, they were playing it safe. At the Telegraph that's the digital native culture we embrace."
Bridging the 'sacred divide' between editorial and advertising
He also talked about how today's editor in chief must bridge the "sacred divide" and become more involved in the commercial side of the business "helping to devise new revenue streams, nurturing and developing relationships with advertisers and partners but always ensuring and protecting the editorial integrity of the institution and the journalists."
He added: "All the culture change and new technologies are pointless if they don't result in more compelling journalism for our audiences.
"The Telegraph always will be about news. The 21st century Telegraph is also about using new technologies to help our audience to make sense of our increasingly complex world and helping them make the best decision in that complex world for themselves and their families."
To make his point he invited Telegraph photographer Lewis Whyld to the stage to fly a small remote control drone over the audience and play a video showing some of the aerial video drones have captured for the Telegraph.
He also demonstrated a pair of Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles which enable the user to experience 360-degree video.
In his conclusion Seiken said: "Our approach to continuing to transform the Telegraph for the digital age rests on two fundamental principles: The first is one we've had all along – the principle that our most valuable asset is the iconic Telegraph brand.
"A brand that stands for integrity, honesty, reliability, and trust.
"Regardless of how the technologies change, these are immutable and non-negotiable, and that brand is our biggest asset, both in print and digital.
"The second principle is this: We will create a culture where, bucking the weight of 159 years of tradition, the only commandments chiselled is in stone will be those core values of integrity, honesty, reliability, and trust.
"Everything else is open for experimentation and change as we disrupt ourselves into the new golden age."

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