The fall of Rome – the ABC’s MD gets poetic

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s (ABC) Managing Director Mark Scott is increasingly becoming a true breath of fresh air in his willingness to be provocative and establish new platforms of discussion about media, and is looking like the most interesting ABC MD since David Hill left the national broadcaster in 1995.

Scott’s latest is his October 14, 2009 A.N. Smith Memorial Lecture in Journalism at the University of Melbourne, which is entitled “The Fall of Rome: Media After Empire“.  This has been much-discussed in the media (click here for Margaret Simons’ take on the lecture) – but what is particularly interesting is the poetry which Scott uses.  He quotes extensively from W.H. Auden’s poem “The Fall of Rome”, noting that “It took Edward Gibbon nearly 20 years and six volumes to map The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, but that Auden “condensed the experience into just 28 lines”. 

His point (and that of the poem):  “there is no one reason empires fail”.  He ranges over the Hearsts and Grahams (in the USA), and the Packers, and pays particular attention to Rupert Murdoch.  And then he returns to the biggest media issue of the day:  how can media organisations make proper return on their investment in the days of “all is free” on the web.  Rupert Murdoch, to be sure, is attempting to lead a big reverse charge here – see his recent speech in Beijing (October 10) to make the content aggregators (ooh Google, that must be you) pay.

Scott’s “hesitant” solutions summarised:

1.  The only media organisations that will survive will be those who know and accept that all the rules have changed.

2. Successful organisations will be endlessly inquisitive about the new, understanding that no-one knows where the next breakthrough idea or technology will come from.

3. Successful organisations will be willing to empower their audiences to contribute, to create and to share their media.

4. Part of the protection of media assets will come through diversification.

5. The great challenge is to start within, on areas of (internal) culture and behaviours.

Great stuff, fascinating reading.  Big stakes.  And Mark Scott is “stirring the pot” in a way that we have not seen for some time.  Watch this space.

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