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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

media wars « Previous | |Next »
November 24, 2009

If newspapers want to survive in the new media landscape shaped by digital technology, then the newspaper industry (and the debt-ridden commercial television one) is forced to consider new business models. The reason is the economic reality of advertising revenues slumping and circulations of printed newspapers continuing their long decline. Newspapers and televison stations have sharply cut their budgets to survive. They have closed foreign bureaus and bought out or laid off editors, reporters, and photographers.

The challenge that the Internet poses is both one of destroying the financial base of reporting and dismembering the public that the press has long had. It is probable that the national broadsheet media (eg., NYT, the Guardian, and the Australian,) will probably be able to assemble a public of sufficient size on a variety of platforms to generate the revenue to support a substantial level of reporting.

Currently, the shift to a new business model has been dominated by News Corp's very loud threats to block search engines from crawling the content of its newspapers. Google is the enemy ("parasites" that are "stealing" our content) says News Corp. Several indications of News Corp's strategy for profitmaking in a digital world can now be discerned.

First, James Murdoch told an investor conference in Barcelona that newspapers will play a smaller role in the future with a smaller online audience:

In the business of ideas, which is the business that we are in, we do think journalism plays a role, and we do think there are business models there that will make a lot of sense, albeit perhaps not at the scale of some of our broadcasting businesses and other entertainment businesses......Is it going to be as big a role? No. Structurally, television is vastly more profitable and a big opportunity.

The consequences of News Corp's shift to a paywall or subscription for its digital journalism means that it will have a smaller audience than it has by giving it away for free.

The second indication is the way that News Corp is taking advantage of Microsoft's search engine war with Google. Microsoft has approached big online publishers including News Corp to persuade them to remove their sites from Google’s search engine and index them with Bing in order to increase Bing's market share. Microsoft is willing to spend big to ensure that its Bing search engine is a success.

This is a way of enclosing News Corp's content behind a group paywall. News Corp is willing to sacrifice a lot of traffic to the websites of papers, such as the Wall Street Journal and The Times, in return for a payment from Microsoft. Since Bing’s share of the search market is under 10 per cent whilst Googles is about two-thirds of the market, this means significantly smaller online audiences and therefore a probable loss of online advertising revenues. However, Murdoch has said the Google traffic is not worth very much as the revenue from search traffic is low.

The third indication of News Corp's strategy is suggested by Paul Starr's argument in the Columbia Journalism Review that:

As the diminished public for journalism becomes more partisan, journalism itself is likely to shift further in that direction. That tendency is already apparent online, as it is in cable. And so there is a disconnect between the recommendations that Downie and Schudson offer, which reflect a tradition of nonpartisan professionalism, and the pressures of the emerging environment. Not only is the audience for news likely to become more partisan; so is the universe of potential donors to nonprofit journalism.

News Corp is in the forefront of partisan commentary style journalism--eg., Fox News and The Australian.

These three tendencies indicate a defensive newspaper strategy to protect profits in the context of the digital-media revolution and the increasing irrelevance (decomposition?) of newspapers in their printed form. They also suggest market failure in fields including Australian content, investigative journalism and rural and regional reportage.

This highlights the need for public journalism and wire or news-gathering services in the public sphere or space: a not-for-profit space by design, that exists not to make money but to serve the public and it is accountable to them.The media in this space addresses the audience as citizens, not as consumers in the marketplace.

This public journalism is one that should be supported by the universities' journalism schools producing news for the public along the lines of a "teaching hospital" model of professional education.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:14 AM | | Comments (11)
Comments

Comments

Gary, what is the likely impact of all this going to be on a bloke like me who rarely buys a newspaper and instead gets most of his info from books, Radio National, some TV docos and even the news occasionally, the occasional specialist magazines /journals but most frequently from blogs like this [ta very muchly for that],LP, Crikey [without subscribing] Overland, Pharyngula, Deltoid and other blogs often chasing links within them around the place?
Similarly for those of the general public who, in the future,may buy a newspaper, watch TV at night and so on?

What does it mean for us?
Am we going to be less informed as opposed to mis or dis informed, or not?

fred,
you just hope that Conroy is able to deliver high speed broadband to the regions and that our friendly ISP allows big data downloads as everything is increasingly going online and becoming more video orientated.

I cannot watch video at Victor Harbor without it breaking it, but I can watch live streaming and participate in real time in conferences in Canberra or Sydney from my office in Adelaide.

The Microsoft/News Ltd vs Google/free thing suggests to me that commercial media is thinking about a partisan divide as well as a paid/free divide, which erodes the audience even further when you consider that everything online is niche.

Further, consider that the audience for 'hard' news is smaller than that for sport or hollywood gossip, and a more difficult prospect for the kind of targeted advertising the internet caters to.

Fred,
I can't see it having any impact on you at all. Consider for example, half of the news is currently recycled media releases from people who want their news out in the public. If you were them, wouldn't you start sending your releases to bloggers? And how many of those links you follow go to more reliable sources than News Ltd sites?

Lyn,
political news is definitely a niche market. I am surprised that ex Canberra Press journalists aren't thinking of doing an online publication for this market --an OZ version of The Politico. It would work.

Maybe that is what Crikey is evolving into?

Gary,
The news market is small and so is the Australian market. I don't think there's enough room for another Crikey. And Crikey isn't big enough to accommodate ex gallery journos.

could be wrong, of course. There could be a market for a more conservative version of Crikey, but then you'd be talking miniscule niche.

Lyn,
you're right. The news market is small. There is a vacuum there though. Crikey could continue to grow --they could bring in a good conservative journalist with good political instincts. More growth, broader base.

Could further develop by being local outlet to Canberra isn't local the key to online media? The Canberra Times isn't much chop.

Lyn,
maybe Crikey is too set in its ways, and it will just become more professional at what it does. An Oz Politico could evolve out of an assemblage of Sky News, online television, and ex-Canberra Press Gallery journos. hmmm--isn't this where the ABC's new online service is going with Annabel Crabbe?

Things are changing in a digital world. Liberal MPs continually texted the Canberra Press Gallery journos from within the partyroom, and it was then circulated out through Twitter via iPhones and BlackBerrys. A dialogue developed between Canberra Press Gallery and those political junkies/media journos all during the day including Question Time and Turnbull's late press appearance. I was able to follow, and participate in, the real time flow of events throughout the day easily, without the mainstream media, who were very slow to interpret events online.

This is a big shift. It's just the start of something new forming and it is cutting into the authority of those Canberra Press Gallery reporters-- such as the ABC's Chris Uhlmann--- who depend on secret sources, authority, and broadcast. They become just another voice and their interpretations can be more easily evaluated and their biases more evident.

The technological key to this first draft of political history is the iPhone and BlackBerry.

Scott Bridges at Crikey describes what happened re the media in Canberra yesterday:

Throughout last night’s political drama and excitement, on Twitter via iPhone and BlackBerry from the halls of APH, were several of the nation’s leading mainstream media political journalists tapping away at their micro keyboards to ensure that the Twitterverse was the most informed cohort of political observers in Australia. Thanks to Twitter and those social media-savvy journos, thousands upon thousands of Australians learned about the goings-on in the opposition party room literally hours before anyone else, making (for a short while at least) traditional news channels redundant.

More importantly,
And not only were these front-line political journalists talking directly in real time to news consumers without any editorial filter, the consumers were talking back and the journos were listening; there was a conversation instead of a monologue. It’s turning into a bit of a cliche for those of us who endlessly spruik the benefits of well-used social media, but the genuine bi-directionality of the communication on display last night is a shining example of how journalism and media are changing, no matter how much some industry dinosaurs wish it wasn’t.

The Australian starts to look like old media.

Nan,
As Bernard Keane points out in Crikey Daily if you follow the right Canberra Press Gallery journos--- Maiden, Speers, Crabb and Latika Bourke on Twitter--then you're as well informed as most people in Parlaiment House. He says:

There are, of course, still insiders, and well-connected journalists, but it's now possible for everyone inside and outside this building to know exactly what's going on when things become truly extraordinary... All you had to do was follow enough political journalists on Twitter and you knew precisely what was happening mere seconds afterward.

The implication?
Gone are the old days of careful information management, not merely by political parties but by journalists and media outlets.

The reason for the flow of information is MPs are taking mobile phones into the party room. --hence the volume of texts coming out of the partyroom room to political journalists.

It's still important to remember that most people get their news the way they always have. It would be harder for the info managers to control the message, but your Ackermans, Milnes and assorted others will be around for a while yet.

Lyn,
that is true. But new models of journalism do need to be developed given the change bought about the digital-media revolution. As is pointed out here:

Publishing for the general public can now be done at minimal cost —no need to contract out to a printing company, no need to distribute to newsstands—just construct a Web site. Distribution has moved from major barrier to trivial expense.

Maybe the journalism schools in our universities can foster a digital "journalism laboratory" in which students experiment in new ways of producing news for the public. This could be done at Canberra University.