Tuesday, June 2, 2009

News goes for The Punch

News Limited went public on Monday June 1 with its new online site The Punch.

According to editor David Penberthy (former editor of the Sydney Daily Telegraph):

The Punch is a new opinion website aimed at every Australian with a love of ideas, discussion and debate.

It’s not a fancy, la-di-dah site aimed at people with three university degrees, nor is it a site for yobbos who want to engage in mindless abuse.

It’s a place for spirited, sleeves-up, energetic, engaging commentary, written by people who enjoy writing, for people who enjoy reading.

It has a full-time team of four writers (Penberthy, Tory Maguire, Leo Shanahan and Paul Colgan), and an eclectic group of signed on occasional contributors:

Our political contributors include Mike Rann, Maxine McKew, Anthony Albanese, Joe Hockey, Mark Arbib, Nick Xenophon, Barnaby Joyce, Jason Clare, Scott Morrison, John Cobb, Jamie Briggs, George Brandis, Chris Pyne, Michael Costa, Bronwyn Bishop and Peter Dutton, as well as Mark Textor, Peter Lewis, David Gazard and Tim Gartrell.

Our sportswriters include Kate Ellis, Ben Buckley, Anthony Sharwood and Luke Foley, on business and economics we have Clive Mathieson, Steve Keen, Frank Zumbo and Cameron England, and a broad suite of writers including Catharine Lumby, Tracey Spicer, Fergus Linehan, Ed Charles, Clive Small, Matt Kirkegaard and Nedahl Stelio covering entertainment, technology, food, fashion, crime, movies, music and trends.

The Punch will also include exclusive original content from established and emerging News Limited journalists including Joe Hildebrand, Dennis Atkins, Di Butler, Alan Howe, Alex Dickerson, Tory Shepherd, as well as journos from other outlets including Leigh Sales from the ABC and Fiona Connolly from ACP.

Much of our content will be News Limited content. But it will also come from people at independent news sites, from people who aren’t in journalism but are great writers, from people at rival news organisations whose work on The Punch opens them, and us, up to new audiences. And every morning we will link through to content on sites which we own, but also on sites which we don’t own, to give you the most enjoyable reading experience.

Suggesting that Penberthy may be reading this blog, he notes:

Against this backdrop, our hope for the site is this: at a time when every tenured communications academic on the planet is sending tiny urls via twitter, linking you through to wrist-slashing stories about the apparent death of journalism, we want to demonstrate that journalism is alive and well.
Commentary on The Punch can be found online at Larvatus Prodeo, Club Troppo and Public Opinion. Not surprisingly, the blogosphere is not enthised by News's entry into their patch.

Two lines of cricicism have been most common. The first is whether you can make a site of this nature work without some commitment to quality writing, even if that means writing for "people with three university degrees". Hell, I will have five by year's end (six if you see Honours as a separate year!), and my own suspicion is that it is a lot more common than David Penberthy may be allowing for to find people who regualrly read and post to blogs having above-average levels of educational qualification (and don;t interpret that as saying they are smarter, just sayin' ...).

The second is that it is opinion, not journalism, and that most of the contributions come at no cost. All true, and it may be causing some ructions wihtin News, particularly for those who get paid to write opinion, and now face also having to write for The Punch, or perhaps having their work replaced by material sourced from The Punch. This may indeed come to pass - I first became aware of the site by reading Penberthy's piece on Australians abroad on The Australian online - but it does seem odd for bloggers to be criticising other media outlets for drawing on crowdsourced free labour as an alternative to paid professional journalism. Isn't that what many have been arguing is the future?

At any rate, the fact that News has gone for The Punch indicates above all else that the Crikey model (and that of other sites such as On Line Opinion) is getting audiences and commerical traction, and that going head-to-head with them is a sure sign that this is being acknowledged. That siad, we'll know whether this site is getting readers in a way that matters when we see regular postings from the likes of Mike Rann, Anthony Albanese, Barnaby Joyce and Chris Pyne.


Jason said...

Let me add to the debate with my piece here: http://importanceofideas.com/2009/06/02/punch-no-journalism-knockout/

News can publish yet another online blog if it likes - good luck to them. But, as I argue in my post, don't go around calling it journalism. It's not. And they've missed an opportunity to do something really innovative with online news.

Terry Flew said...

Jason, I saw your piece via he link to LP. I think your analysis is right - I also find the self-conscious downmarket pitching by David Penberthy interesting, as I think the $ in online news media are actually among the higher-income and better educated.

Jason said...

Agree. Indeed, online is one of the few places left where really serious, really in-depth, really worthy journalism CAN find an audience that is willing to pay for it.

That's the beauty of online - cut out the printing costs and suddenly you don't need a whole lot of people to pay all that much money to make the thing sustainable. THAT is the future.

The Punch? Well, blogging is soooo last season, I reckon. :-)

Pete said...

Hi Terry

I'd be interested in an updated opinion from you on The Punch, now that it's been publishing for a while.

A few thoughts:

• Most of the posts by politicians and PR professionals are worthless and uninteresting, just predictably pushing their own or their clients' interests

• The site really came into its own a couple of days ago when Utegate melted down - live comments from lots of readers on the webcast of Parliament and breaking news by the minute.

• We've also seen a increasing practice by News Ltd of quoting The Punch on the main News Ltd site news.com.au (especially during the peak of Utegate) - understandable as cross promotion but odd as journalism

• Despite the obvious critiques that can be made of The Punch, and despite the fact that it is partly a response to the Crikey model, I believe that The Punch and similar well resourced projects could destroy Crikey. I'm a long time Crikey subscriber and I must admit the main reason that I'll resubscribe this month is to support Crikey as an independent voice, rather than because I see it as an indispensable source of information. The fact that The Punch able to respond in real time to events and that it is open to live comment makes it a superior model IMO. The problem facing Crikey and everyone is how to charge for journalism online so as to fund quality content. I don't have the answer and I fear the worst for Crikey.


(your onetime student and flatmate)

Pete said...
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