Saturday, August 8, 2009

More on Murdoch and pay-per-view news

Roy Greenslade offers this commentary on Rupert Murdoch's announcement that News Corporation news titles will go towards pay-only access to online content:

I have never received so many calls from so many places across the world to talk about the momentous decision by Rupert Murdoch to charge people for access to his newspaper websites.

As so often with statements by the world's most famous media mogul, the announcement is being treated as the word of god. Where Rupert goes, said several TV and radio presenters, others are sure to follow.

Excuse me if I disagree with those slavish reactions, and with Murdoch and, incidentally, with Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times, who also believes that paid-for content is inevitable.

I tend to agree with Jeff Jarvis (Murdoch's move to charge for content opens doors for competitors), Guido Fawkes (Murdoch bucks the market) and John Temple, publisher of the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News (charging for a basic news service is flawed).

But I concede that there are many supporters of Murdoch's move too. The split is both philosophical and practical. There are those (with whom I agree) who believe that the digital media revolution is in the process of transforming journalism and those (such as Murdoch and most traditional newspaper publishers) who believe the net is merely another platform rather than an instrument of transformation.

It follows that if you wish to continue to fund traditional journalism that you require similar revenues, hence the Murdoch charging strategy.

Oddly, there are advocates of Murdoch's approach who believe him to be a journalistic hero and even a revolutionary, as I discovered when taking part yesterday evening in a BBC World Service discussion.

I was taken by surprise by the passionate support for Murdoch offered by by Tim Luckhurst, professor of journalism at Kent University (and a former editor of The Scotsman).

This also from James Harkin, also available (free) from The Guardian:

The cheerleaders of a free, digital utopia want to resurrect the mass market for news by having us chat to each other and our newspapers all day long. But between the fusty old newspapermen who refuse to tweet and the gadgeteers who do little else, there is little evidence that the rest of us have the time to be cogs in an all-purpose electronic machine. Long before the net tore apart its business model, the truth is that many newspapers were looking bloated and fat, as if lifestyle supplements and the advertising which went along with them was all readers wanted.

What they wanted, it turns out, was focused content, written by journalists who know what they're talking about. The freshest news outlets springing up in the US, for instance, are Politico, the magazine aimed at political junkies which broke the scandal of the Washington Post charging companies for access to its reporters, or TMZ, the well-connected celebrity mag which broke the news of Michael Jackson's death.

News organisations will, as a consequence, divide into populist monoliths which try to be all things to all people – witness the growth of news aggregators, for example – or, more promisingly, slim down and concentrate on what they know about.

For those that can hold their ground and know their niche, the good news is that the advertising industry will eventually have to catch up to the fact that the production of news is moving away from national mainstream outlets into a more global patchwork of niches. What matters then is whether newspapers have anything distinctive enough to pay for, or audiences who are interested enough in reading them to see their demographic data sold on to advertisers in tune with their specific interests. In one way or another, Rupert is right and the free-lords are wrong – we'll end up having to pay for the news that we really want.