"Audiences are not going to sit there and be handed tablets of stone," avers Chris Cramer, Reuters global editor for multimedia. But he also thinks that we live in a community of "continuous partial attention" where the "chatter, chaff and stuff available" drown out the media. To be successful nowadays "you have to create something that differentiates yourself from the crowd".
"Use new technology to make a brand," he advised the media students assembled to hear about becoming a journalist in the connected world. "Who needs the traditional media? Any of you can start to change the world yourselves."
Cramer (left in photo) was joined by Florian Westphal, head of media and PR at Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross. The talk was organised by the Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney.
Cramer has pretty strong views on what media must do to respond to consumer demand. The Reuters brand, he says, is almost unmatched in terms of trust, a shrinking quantity in today's world of "fake and breathless hysteria" where "everything is created to present fear and conflict". Cramer says that the level of trust in conventional media is at an all-time low. But things are not unmercifully dire, he predicts. "The whole world is a news gatherer" now, he says. Cramer recounts how, when the aircraft touched down in the Hudson River in New York last year he found himself at the window "rubbernecking like everyone else" instead of using his trusty handheld camera to capture footage.
"The most compelling images come from tourists," he says. There is the potential to access millions overnight. On the downside for companies like Reuters, most people think that news should be "absolutely free". Yet he thinks that people will continue to pay for the kinds of values that companies like Reuters add to their product. "Everything we do commercially enhances our reputation," he says.
But "a journalist is only as good as the news story he does tomorrow". Reuters has 2800 journalists working out of 196 bureaus and Cramer estimates that the audience for their product numbers a billion.
I asked Cramer why journalists are often very critical of social networking sites like Facebook. He had said that we live in a world where, given the ability of anyone to be a journalist, there is a danger of "electronic mob rule".
"Facebook? Big tick," says Cramer. "I personally am not down on any of this stuff." But some of his colleagues are "terrified" of it. "They twitter for a day, don't see the point and then leave."