Journalism is bound to change in the coming years, replacing an inert “us to them” form of publishing by encouraging readers to participate and contribute, according to Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian Alan Rusbridger.

Mr. Rusbridger said throwing ideas to the public for a pre-publication debate through the social media and getting their feedback could be an ideal way of harmonising the strengths of the digital and the print media. “Encourage partnership. Invite or allow response,” he suggested.

He was delivering the keynote address at the concluding session of the two-day WAN-IFRA India 2010 conference here on Thursday on “Going forward with print and digital.”

The time was past when newspapers could afford to consider themselves “exceptional” and for journalists to think of themselves as the only voices of authority, expertise and interest. It was always better to be open and collaborative. The sale figures of quality newspapers in England showed a decline over the past five years, of about 25 per cent.

Considering the strong role played by social media such as Twitter and Facebook, he said the print media should leverage their power. A quarter of the total time spent on the web was on these social networking sites.

Predicting a series of 10 changes in journalism in the coming years, Mr. Rusbridger felt these would lead to greater reader participation in a variety of ways. Journalism would encourage the audience to initiate debate, publish material or make suggestions, and help communities of joint interests to form around subjects, issues and individuals.

“It is transparent and open to challenge including correction, clarification and addition,” he said. Among other things, journalism would be open to the web, be a part of it, link to it and collaborate with other material and ideas.

Several initiatives by The Guardian had successfully leveraged social media such as Twitter, on coverage of issues such as controversy over the hacking of the phones of prominent individuals and the investigation into the expenses of MPs. In fact, Twitter helped thwart a move to legally suppress publication of reports on Trafigura, an oil company involved in the dumping of toxic waste on the Ivory Coast.

On the question of pay walls for news websites, Mr. Rusbridger said The Guardian's website was reaching two million people every day, which was well ahead of The Times (which had introduced the paid model). There was nothing definite about whether the pay walls worked, but by present calculations, the revenue they were expected to bring were small, while the loss of audiences would be staggering.

“Newspapers will have to take a more nuanced view of that, add functionality and use for devices such as mobile phones or the iPod.” Such efforts and segmentation of content for fragmented audiences to provide deeper knowledge could support charging models for content.

Calling for enhanced participation of readers, Mr. Rusbridger referred to independent publication efforts on the web. “This energy will go elsewhere if we don't tap the expertise among readers and the community,” he said.

Earlier, a panel discussion on “Newspaper as a brand or information service” and other issues in journalism was moderated by Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu N. Ram. The participants were Rahul Kansal, Chief Marketing Officer, Bennett Coleman and Company; Raj Chengappa, Editor-in-Chief of The Tribune; and Shravan Garg, group Editor of Dainik Bhaskar. The conference covered a range of topics on monetising content, integration of newsrooms, attracting young readers, and advances and challenges in printing technologies.