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Murdoch, media, internet « Previous | |Next »
April 14, 2005

I came across a recent speech by Rupert Murdoch over at Margo Kingston's Webdiary, along with comments by some US bloggers.

The speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors makes some good, informed points about the digital changes taking place in the mediascape. This is a world in rapid flux, despite the Howard Government's fetters imposed on digital TV to protect commercial free-to-air TV.

Murdoch's primary concern is with the survival of newspapers in a digital world. He opens by saying:

What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a God-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.
Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it. They want to question, to probe, to offer a different angle.

The corporate media have been slow to respond to this critical way of reading the media. Hence their declining circulation, the constant staff downsizing, the dumbing down of reporters into hacks and their decreasing relevance in a digital world. Thus a new publication in Adelaide, The Independent Weekly, which aims to provide a different approach to Murdoch's tabloid Advertiser in South Australia, has no substantive online presence. It's irrelevant to me.

The solution?

As you would expect Murdoch is up to the challenge. He says that today's newspapers (eg., The Australian and The Age are just papers. Tomorrow, they can be a internet destination. By this he means that instead of people traditionally starting their day with coffee and the newspaper, in a digital world they will start their day online with coffee and a newspaper website.

That's me now. I start at 6.30 am. I basically see the journalists and the op.ed commentators as a starting-point for a discussion about on-going topics.

What I find offered by The Australian broadsheet is pretty thin web presence. I scan the site in minutes then move on. Some newspapers (Australian Financial Review) are even locking up their online content behind paid registration walls, instead of freeing up archives for use in the public domain.

Murdoch, to his credit, realizes that a poor web presence is not god for business. He responds in two ways. He says:

"..we have to refashion what our web presence is. It can’t just be what it too often is today: a bland repurposing of our print content. Instead, it will need to offer compelling and relevant content. Deep, deep local news. Relevant national and international news. Commentary and Debate. Gossip and humor."

Well compelling and relevant content is not happening. However, the internet site will have to do still more if it is to be competitive with news aggregators, such as Google:
For some, it may have to become the place for conversation. The digital native doesn’t send a letter to the editor anymore. She goes online, and starts a blog. We need to be the destination for those bloggers. We need to encourage readers to think of the web as the place to go to engage our reporters and editors in more extended discussions about the way a particular story was reported or researched or presented.

I guess that is the democracy bit. That is not happening at the moment. The public conversation is fostered by bloggers and Webdiary. The Australian's reporters and editors are not interested in more extended discussions with bloggers. They continue to pretend that blogging does not exist in Australia; or if it does exist it is of no relevance. Their boss thinks otherwise.

Murdoch makes a suggestion that the Sydney Morning Herald is moving towards and The Guardian is already doing:

"...we may want to experiment with the concept of using bloggers to supplement our daily coverage of news on the net...[bloggers] may still serve a valuable purpose; broadening our coverage of the news; giving us new and fresh perspectives to issues; deepening our relationship to the communities we serve. So long as our readers understand the distinction between bloggers and our journalists."

So The Australian on this has a long to go if it is become internet destination in the digital media world. It is more likely that the newspapers will transform their offline classified businesses into online marketplaces. But the flow of online advertising depends on the newspaper being a successful internet destination. To achieve this requires a complete transformation of the way newspapers think about their product and their readers.

I cannot see much of newspapers reshaping themselves to become part of a digital world in Australia, can you? Me thinks we have to build on the new digital forms to develop the public conversation on issues of concern to us citizens.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:48 PM | | Comments (6) | TrackBacks (2)

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We set up newcopia as an attempt to wrap commenting around a static medium. Newcopia also has the ability to add comments to ABC news stories, but they move to fast out of the panel there and comments get lost quickly.

The RSS aggregators on newcopia and ozpolitics are extremely useful. I use them instead of the blogrolls now. They are news at a glance. No need to go to a website to see what they have when you can click on a link to go directly to a story you want to see.

I am not certain that Murdoch's idea of putting comments underneath their stories will work. People like blogging because they can make a small home for themselves on their part of the balkanized internet. They can comment in their colours and directly to their friends. Larger sites tend to drown out small or minority voices under the communal group-think.

Many sites like have commenting enabled. But few people use them and the only threads that gain large numbers of commentators are usually flames or trolls. So I am not certain that newsites can gain as large a "community", as opposed to readership, around them as sites like slashdot, fark, metafilter etc have.

Blogs have replaced op-eds for quality now. Devine is competing with the likes of yourself, Quiggin, Parish, Barista, Catallaxy etc etc and she is losing bad. Real bad. As Murdoch recognized blogs are commenting systems on the news. If google had threading so the blog commentaries could be linked through a google search, we could have a meta-connection of a conversation on an issue.

Maybe instead of a trackback, the blogger puts an "up-connection" link to the primary source, or one (many) of the sources that inspired their entry. This way a causal connection can be made. Search engines like google will be able to connect the blogs and convert them into a threaded output when searched on.

It would also push the issue of handling spam up to the search engine. Trackbacks put that respsonsibility on the blogger. It is the blog being hit with trackback spam. Yet false uplinks can be searched on by google and discarded if they look like spam.

You could probably even map that style of connectivity. It would quickly show where the primary source is.

Yep, I've been keeping an eye on Newcopia.It is an excellent idea---the start of something new. What is also needed is the live parliament video feed, the research papers and the some of the Senate inquiries.

You write on your post Are Bloggers Journalists?

"Mass Media is a static medium. It puts forward an opinion or information and gives no means for the reader, consumer or disseminator of that information to supply feedback. There is the letters to the editor section in all newspapers, or phone in sections in TV shows".

That's right, except for Webdiary, which is breaking new ground.

You then add that when the market doesn't supply a need, someone else will supply it, and that

"Many of the political bloggers are in reality the comments section of a newspaper or mass media website. ...Many of the political bloggers have supplied a functionality that mass media has denied them. They are providing a decentralised feedback network."

That's right. The American idea of bloggers as journalists is far too narrow.

This decentralised feedback network full of difference has its own dynamic. Some are effectively writing op. eds. as you point out. These are more than commenting on the news a la Michelle Grattin. There is also a more critical component to these op eds that is missing from the corporate media.

They are developing into conversatons about public issues of concern to citizens. The news breaks and threads are feed into policy concerns. But the conversaton is broken and far too fragmented. It is impossible to track. The conversation re the issues (eg. the federalism stuff of late, global warming) does need to be aggregated because it will surface again.

I guess that New Matilda attempts to take this public conversation further, but it is locked up behind subscription walls. Online Opinion indicates the new online pathway.

What has suprised me is the failure of the think tanks (eg., CIS) and the academic/political sites like the Evatt Foundation, Chifley Research Centre or CISto step into the public conversation. They are more or less silos in sitting in the background functioning by just putting their stuff online, and not rethinking what they do. The small magazines are very poor in terms of being online.

So there is a big online vacuum here. You suggest that:

"..the blogger puts an "up-connection" link to the primary source, or one (many) of the sources that inspired their entry. This way a causal connection can be made."

Isn't that what we do now? I give the argument when the original source goes offline (eg. The Australian) or never goes online(eg, AFR).Maybe I misunderstood the uplink? Can you spell it out.

What is needed is an automatic linking of the conversation so that it is in the foreground.

Gary, For Newcopia the big limiting factor is that it is incredibly difficult to build an audience (without paying for advertising and marketing). The mass media has it all over new media there. Even though quality still rises to the top, it takes a while to get noticed.

Webdiary suffers from only being "on" when Kingston is at the keyboard. It is a start, but might require a more new media savvy person at the helm. They could just buy up the Catallaxy folks, they run a good, consistent and even group blog.

I rambled in my original comment on your piece. I think what is lacking is the technology from the search engines that has threading and has the primary source as its pinnacle. Like you said, blogging is the commenting system for the mass media; but we have no threading, no way to navigate between the commenting other than links and trackbacks.

SSR gets a lot of hits for Cornelia Rau and the treaty of Amity and Co-operation. It is a shame SSR's opinions on that cant be some bundled into some wider form of threading from the commenterait on that issue. I think that is for the search engines to do though, they are the big aggregators at the moment.

Maybe RSS can be used to create linkages ..... rambling here ... maybe simple searches on keywords like "Cornelia Rau" in feeds from other sites can be used to make a sort of intra-site threading .... dunno. Hard part is to know what keywords to use. It may require access to the referrers on other sites so certain word groupings can be weighted.

Online Opinion is a very cool idea, specializing as it does in an edited op-ed style. Good way to guarantee quality and eveness of content. They probably should put their comments on the same page as the op-ed though.

Good point on the think-tanks. Hadn't thought of that before. They tend to be more empirical based, so would be an excellent source of primary material and commentary.

Australian Policy Online suffers from the same. It has great papers/studies, but no way for outside knowledge to be collected, or for the public to comment or ask questions on those papers.

yeah you are right about Webdiary. It needs more people at the keyboard. But so does public opinion. However, it is hard to find people willing to write on public policy frequently. A lot of stuff is political partisan rather than policy from a political perspective.

I agree that the corporate media will try and solve their problems by buying in the weblogs they need.

Re Newcopia--I reckon the Parliamentary Library should be marketing that online service. The niche audience is the staff of the MP's and Senators plus the lobbyists who keep an eye on the legislative happenings. It is a fairly big niche audience.

Re your comments:

"...blogging is the commenting system for the mass media; but we have no threading, no way to navigate between the commenting other than links and trackbacks."

Are people working on this kind of technology? Links and trackbacks are not that good re fostering the conversation. They are gestures to what could be.

Re your comment:

"Maybe RSS can be used to create linkages....Hard part is to know what keywords to use."

Maybe you can begin by selecting an issue--eg mandatory detention, greenhouse, water, federalism etc. It would make a good research project for someone.

Re you comment about think tanks and the static Australian Policy online. I guess it is up to bloggers like me to introduce the background material into their posts. But that use of the background material needs to be linked back to Australian Policy Online to create a feed back network that adds another layer to the comments they will hopefully enable on their site.

Same with Online Opinion. They are the best re being online in Australia. I often use their material, but there is no way that my coments can link as feedback to what is happening on their site. So they do not know that I have used their material. It would be good if they did.

The conversation doesn't get off the ground in terms of it being ongoing as a toing and froing.


Are people working on this kind of technology?

Not that I know of. We (collective we) are pretty much the coalface. Maybe Anthony Hicks' resource could be linked up by RSS and threading in some way. Dont know. Have to think about that a bit more.

Another possibility is to have something like google-adsense. It scrapes the page and pulls context from it, then placing the appropriate ad. Maybe a page scraper that pulls context and then adds links (via javascript) which can continue the thread by jumping to other blogs.

I emailed the APH and asked for some javascript type component from them (like adsense) which contained parliament's upcoming events, activities, committees, calendar etc. They said they would look into it.

I have emailed all the parliaments about adding RSS, the Australian Parliament House and Victorian Parliament are the two most responsive. I got a reply from SA too, but nothing about whether RSS feeds were on their horizon. The others havent replied.

So the conversation doesn't get off the ground in terms of it being ongoing as a toing and froing.

Yeh that is a major issue, and hindrance to continued debate and collection of knowledge. There is much wisdom out there, and much wisdom in the people, but very hard to find atm.


as you say here 'We are moving from human knowledge as consumption; to human knowledge as interaction.' That is the key bit. What we need is the online technology to do this easily and quickly---this meaning interaction as a public conversation in a digital world.

Aah google-sense. I wondered how they did it. Page scrapper huh. Neat.

If it can be done for advertising surely that digital technology can be reapplied/reworked for public discussion on specific topics?

I'm sure the political/policy bloggers here in Australia would be willing to experiment along with Online Opinion and Wediary on this. I would.

What you also want from APH is their public Research work/background papers to go on a RSS feed, far more than just their events. It is high quality topical work that should be more publicly accessible.

Two suggestions re your talks with APH.

What is also required is something that would sift through the online public submissions to a big and important public inquiry. I have to read each one (100+) in hard copy looking for stuff I'm after --eg on the cancer inquiry. It's time consuming. I do not have the time. Everybody waits for the final Report. But that filters the raw info.

That something is a powerful search engine so that I can punch in--eg 'pesticides+cancer' or 'nutrition and immune system' and upcomes the stuff in a second.

The other point that you make here is the importance of comments. Agreed. It highlights the importance of the Quiggin and Troppo blogs--a flocking around a weblog or even a memeblog --eg.,Chris Shiel's Back Pages during the federal election.

But Quiggin and Troppo remain interactive silos rather than their conversations linking to, or interacting with, other weblogs. I can pick up on a comment from Troppo and post it on public opinion, but this does not automatically loop back into Quiggin's comments. So they do not know about the conversation going on elsewhere unles I go and post a comment there and say 'have a look at what I've written'.