News Corp CEO Talks New Harper Lee Novel, "Trash" Web Traffic

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"We believe in journalism, the power of journalism and the profitability of great journalism," says Robert Thomson at a London investor conference.

News Corp CEO Robert Thomson discussed the much-anticipated new novel from Harper Lee and criticized social-media-driven content sites for attracting "trash" traffic at a London investor conference on Tuesday.

Speaking at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Global Telecom & Media Conference, he said the Lee novel, her first in more than 50 years, is already the most preordered book in the history of News Corp's book publishing arm, HarperCollins. While he declined to provide forecasts, Thomson said: "It is going to be a big book."

He said that the company has also seen an increase in orders for Lee's famous To Kill A Mockingbird in the wake of the news of the new book. Thomson described the new novel as a sequel and said it had "quite an interesting structure."

Reiterating past criticism of some "so-called contemporary content sites," he said they draw "trash traffic." He has in the past criticized the likes of BuzzFeed and mentioned it again on Tuesday.

"The amount of trash traffic on those sites is significant," the News Corp CEO said. "There’s no doubt advertisers are starting to realize they don’t want guilt by association, they want gilt by association." Emphasizing that traditional journalism still has an audience in the digital age, he added: "It is up to us to make the case for our mastheads."

Concluded Thomson: "We believe in journalism, the power of journalism and the profitability of great journalism." He added: "Unlike certain newspapers in other companies, we are not going to cut down to the bone and beyond."

Asked about News Corp's outlook and future focus, Thomson said clues to its future were in the acquisitions that the company has made.

He cited social video agency Storyful, romance-novel publisher Harlequin and online real estate firm Move Inc.

Storyful powers the media engines of Facebook, Vice Media and others, Thomson highlighted. Videos that it helped bring to prominence have included videos related to the Charlie Hebdo attack and the Nepal earthquake, he said. Saying it was all about viral video, he described its business as "very complementary" to News Corp's journalistic operations.

Harlequin similarly complements HarperCollins, he said, adding a presence in emerging markets and the Spanish-language space. Again mentioning Lee's new book, he said the company in the past wouldn't have been able to buy foreign Spanish-language rights to a novel.

And Move has helped News Corp strengthen its growing online real estate business, Thomson said.

Asked about Australian pay TV platform Foxtel, in which News Corp owns a 50 percent stake, and its spending on sports rights, Thomson said popular Australian sports, such as Aussie Rules Football and rugby league, tend not to be national sports. That means that the rights come at a different cost than, say, soccer rights in the U.K., Thomson said. "We can monetize nationally in a way terrestrial channels can't," he added.

Twitter: @georgszalai