Amy Borrett on the inaugural Marjorie Deane lecture at City, University of London

William Lewis gives the inaugural Marjorie Deane lecture on the future of news

By Amy Borrett

Journalism is facing a crisis of personalisation, according to the chief executive of the Dow Jones Group, William Lewis, who gave the inaugural Marjorie Deane lecture on Monday 10th February 2020.

Addressing an audience of City students and high-profile journalists, including ITV political editor Robert Peston and the editorial director of the BBC, Kamal Ahmed, Mr Lewis stressed the importance of abandoning the “one-size-fits all” approach to journalism.

“We face a situation where great media brands might not survive,” said the former Daily Telegraph editor. “Just when there’s never been a greater urgency for those readers to consumer fearless, fact-checked journalism.”

Mr Lewis called on publications to support the “risky, heroic work” of journalists by personalising content, so that they can capture the attention of their readers in a world where they are increasingly distracted.

“At Dow Jones, we see the personalisation crisis not as a disaster, but as an exciting opportunity. But I look around at many other news organisations and I do see a disaster in the making,” said Mr Lewis.

Dow Jones, whose flagship publication the Wall Street Journal exceeded 2 million digital subscriptions last week, has pioneered this approach by introducing a dynamic paywall. Using algorithms, the platform assesses the reader’s behaviour on the site to determine the number of articles they can access before being asked to subscribe.

He urged the students in the audience to use the event to “nobble” their prospective employers about what they are doing about data and personalisation at the reception afterwards, “because if they’re not already doing it, it’s too late”.

Before the lecture Mr Lewis talked with students on City’s MA in Financial Journalism, which is supported financially by the Marjorie Deane Financial Journalism Foundation, about his own experience staring out as a financial journalist after he had graduated from City.

He commended them on their decision to take the course, which he said develops some of the most important skills for making it has a hard-hitting journalism. Using a knowledge of finance and data to hold powerful figures to account is still important, said Mr Lewis, who despite recognising the crisis in journalism, confessed to being “very bullish about the future for quality news”.

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