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

the warp + weave of a digital economy « Previous | |Next »
November 22, 2010

Alan Kohler makes an excellent point in his Added value needed for online media survival on the ABC's The Drum with respect to the future of the fourth estate.

His general point is that industries are being disintermediated by the digital economy and are having to reinvent themselves to stay afloat:

The most urgent of these is retailing. For thousands of years we have had to travel to a shop to buy goods because the shopkeepers have controlled their distribution, just as media companies have controlled information.Now we can go direct to the source of the goods, wherever they are in the world. The volume of shopping online is now ballooning and just about everything is now being bought on the internet and delivered to homes in packages - books, shoes, clothing, food, household items.Traditional retailers sitting behind the counters in their stores in shopping malls and strips are now facing huge challenges; many won't survive. Those that do will provide something extra that can't be bought online, some sort of added value or service.

An example. Black and white sheet film for my 8x10 monorail view camera costs $140 a box (of 25 sheets) in Adelaide and $80 from B+ H in New York. Sure, I have to pay the freight, but I can use the internet to place a bulk order for several types of film for several different film cameras, thereby spreading the cost of freight. The film is then stored in the fridge until I need it.

So why would I buy from the local camera shop withe outrageous markups charged by the importers? I would only visit them if they provided added value--ie;, to help me solve the problems I'm encountering with cameras (repairs) and photography.

Journalists working in the mainstream or corporate media are no different. Their model is one person speaking to many in a digital world of Web 2. that provides the mass ability to communicate with each other, without having to go through a traditional intermediary. As Kohler points out:

It is now possible for anyone to find out almost anything. Someone sitting at home can now read any press release, watch any press conference, or read its transcript, and examine any document anywhere in the world.The lowest paid jobs in society are those that anyone can do, but can't be bothered or don't have the time, like cleaning or driving. The danger for plain reporting is that it will be increasingly seen in that light - as a service that anyone can do but can't be bothered or haven't the time. No-one is going to pay much for that, if anything, and advertisers have already discovered that they are in the driver's seat with online media because there is a glut of inventory and it's all measurable and accountable, unlike newspaper advertising.

The digital revolution shifts us from the traditional transmission model to a communication model in an open space of publicly available information with the emergence of greater convergence of text, data and moving pictures.

Kohler's solution rejects both Murdoch's paywalls for transmission and the Guardian's free, open and collaborative journalism that loses money that Alan Rusbridger outlined in the 2010 Andrew Olle Media lecture. Kolher says that in order to survive in both cases journalism must add value - "specifically it must impart meaning. It must do what its customers cannot do themselves, which is to explain what events mean, not just report them."

Well, good bloggers in a post-Gutenberg world are already explaining what events mean ---isn't that the point of commentary? What was one a passive audience has become critics, commentators and photographers. So journalists in the corporate media have competitors and people will only read them if they have something valuable and worthwhile to say.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:43 AM | | Comments (8)


I see from the link that Murdoch is going to erect paywalls for his Australian newspapers next year---The Australian, Sydney's Daily Telegraph and Melbourne's Herald-Sun. They will offer about 50% of their news stories for free and about 50% will be paid for.

No more Janet Albrechtson for free then?

Murdoch's paywall could mean that a mass-circulation tabloid/broadsheet increasingly becomes a niche product in terms of profits or profile.

The older white conservative base will buy the Australian, but on the left of centre will. Why pay to be abused by partisans engaged in the culture wars?

you wouldn't pay for an article on the NBN in The Australian if you wanted to be informed. Why pay to be deceived?

I think Kohler has it exactly arse-about. There are already thousands of people online telling us what it means. Some I respect a lot more than I would ever respect most MSM hacks, who don't want only to tell us what it means but also want to be part of the game. And I can read a specialist who actually has deep discipline knowledge compared to reporters (e.g. some of the climate change bloggers like Brian at LP have forgotten more about AGW than most journos will ever know).

What I want is someone to report factual information in depth. Kohler would be surprised to learn that this does not involve reading press releases or watching press conferences, although it's understandable he believes that is 'news gathering' because that's all most of his colleagues do nowadays apart from quote anonymous sources. No, I would like to read some reporting of hard information which a reporter has obtained by skilled, independent investigation. Actually going and observing at first hand, which is impossible online. But that means hard work and possibly danger, and often gets the reporter disliked by the ruling class, meaning they can't write chatty columns about their off-the-record chats with the rich and famous. Naturally people like Kohler would hate it (by the way did he ever apologise for his disgraceful rumour-mongering about industry superannuation funds and his advice that members should 'get out while they can'?).

It is no sure thing that the paywalls will be a huge money earner. I am sure there is plenty of hope they will be.

The pay tv market is taking a bit of a hit with the new free digital channels becoming available. Maybe a similar thing will happen when the paywalls go up. Other free news groups that rely just on advertising will get better at what they do.

one would hope so.

you are referring to investigative journalism? That's expensive. It needs to be subsidised.What commercial newspaper is going to do that? They are walking down the infotainment pathway

I agree that there is a need for journalists to tell us what is actually happening in a factual informational sense--eg. re the NBN: the backhaul, the areas to be built; connections to the houses, the numbers signing up; why people are not signing up.

However, a lot of that information is to be found on the net on the website of the NBN, Co--though not why people are signing up or not signing up or what plans.You can find some of that info out on the various Whirlpool broadband forums.

What is also need is some kind of informed commentary about the significance of the NBN for us in our everyday world.

Most of the journalists I have read on the NBN have not even attended a public briefing that is provided by the NBN Co. You can tell that they know little about it because they haven't done their research. They are still stuck in he said she said journalism around the politics of the NBN.