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

the idea of a mutualised news organisation « Previous | |Next »
January 26, 2010

In his 2010 Hugh Cudlipp Lecture Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian editor-in-chief, makes some points about paywalls and the new digital journalism that make a lot of sense. You don't hear these kind of media insights and arguments from the Australian media --Fairfax or News Ltd.

He begins by looking at one business model of journalism --the one that says we must charge for all content online. It's the argument that says the age of free is over: we must now extract direct monetary return from the content we create in all digital forms. He says that this this leads onto two further questions.

The first is about 'open versus closed'. This is partly, but only partly, the same issue. If you universally make people pay for your content it follows that you are no longer open to the rest of the world, except at a cost. That might be the right direction in business terms, while simultaneously reducing access and influence in editorial terms. It removes you from the way people the world over now connect with each other. You cannot control distribution or create scarcity without becoming isolated from this new networked world.

The second issue the business model raises is the one of 'authority' versus 'involvement'. Or, more crudely, 'Us versus Them':
Here the tension is between a world in which journalists considered themselves – and were perhaps considered by others – special figures of authority. We had the information and the access; you didn't. You trusted us filter news and information and to prioritise it – and to pass it on accurately, fairly, readably and quickly. That state of affairs is now in tension with a world in which many (but not all) readers want to have the ability to make their own judgments; express their own priorities; create their own content; articulate their own views; learn from peers as much as from traditional sources of authority.

He adds that last year the Guardian earned £25m from digital advertising – not enough to sustain the legacy print business. However, his commercial colleagues believe they would earn a fraction of that from any known pay wall model. The amounts earned don't justify choking off the growth in audience numbers through a walled garden.

The Guardian's growth strategy is to embrace digital, reinvent journalism, grow the digital audience and increase digital advertising. Rusbridger's take on this is about reinventing journalism in a digital world with its computer and phone screens that the digital revolution has bought into being. He accepts the argument that digital technology has helped to:

develop a generation of fierce independence; of emotional and intellectual openness; of inclusion; biased towards free expression and strong views; interested in innovation, used to immediacy; sensitive to/ suspicious of corporate interest; preoccupied with issues of authentication and trust – which includes having access to sources; interested in personalisation or customisation rather than one-size fits all; not dazzled by technology, but more concerned with functionality.

Rusbridger says that the Guardian is edging towards a model in which a mainstream news organisation can harness something of the web's power. It is not about replacing the skills and knowledge of journalists with user generated content. It is about experimenting with the balance of what we know, what we can do, with what they know, what they can do.
We are edging away from the binary sterility of the debate between mainstream media and new forms which were supposed to replace us. We feel as if we are edging towards a new world in which we bring important things to the table – editing; reporting; areas of expertise; access; a title, or brand, that people trust; ethical professional standards and an extremely large community of readers.

They are reaching towards the idea of a mutualised news organisation.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:30 PM | | Comments (7)


That lecture is the most intelligent response I've seen from a news organisation. It goes several steps further than Mark Scott's answer, which doesn't acknowledge the usefulness of contributions from the public. I hope someone influential at the ABC reads it.

The Guardian has successfully become a world newspaper in terms of the growth of its digital readership; so much so that . If the New York Times really does start charging for access, the Guardian may become the newspaper with the largest web English-speaking readership in the world.

It has done this from its content. As Rusbridger points out:

During the last three months of 2009 the Guardian was being read by 40% more people than during the same period in 2008 .... More Americans are now reading the Guardian than read the Los Angeles Times. This readership has found us, rather than the other way round. our biggest growth areas were environment (up 137%), technology (up 125%) and art and design (up 84%). Science was up 81%; politics 39% and Comment is Free 38%.

This is the opposite of newspaper decline-ism. Their strategy isto celebrate this trend and seek to accelerate it rather than cut it off.

I'm sure that the ABC executives will read Alan Rusbridger's speech. He praises them and Mark Scott to high heaven whilst dumping on Murdoch + Co.

The target of Rusbridger's his criticism is a universal pay wall--the "business model is that one that says we must charge for all content online."

That universality of all content is not what currently happens with the Financial Times nor is it what Murdoch or The New York Times are proposing. The latter is a selective pay wall--casual readers will get the NYT for free. Repeat, or loyal, readers will be expected to pay. It's a "metered" model in which readers will be able to read a certain number of stories per month for free (as the Financial Times does for its website) but after that they'll be prompted to buy a subscription, for some unknown amount, and this will create a new revenue stream.

Rusbridger also acknowledges that there is probably general agreement that the media may all charge for specialist, highly-targeted, hard-to-replicate content.

Lyn's comment beat me to it.
Don't you have the feeling with Murdoch, that someone has grabbed you by the scruff of the neck to force you down to your knees to eat cockroaches, no matter how hard you struggle.
Then they are going to have the cheek to force you to pay for a meal you never wanted, that they would howl in indignation at, if they were forced in the same way.
If only they would improve their content they would get the accedence they wanted, the mutton-heads!

Then I hope whoever reads it takes note of the bit about linking to sources and practices of depth layering. For all they're good at sourcing from the public, they're terrible at acknowledgement.

I guess the regional townhall concept is an attempt to incorporate user generated content. But nothing much has happened on that front.