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The Australian to go behind a paywall « Previous | |Next »
June 8, 2011

News Limited’s Richard Freudenstein announced that the company’s Australian newspapers will erect paywalls for some of their content online. As reported in The Australian News' Ltd's decision to adopt a "freemium" model -- a mix of free and paid content similar to The Wall Street Journal-- will begin in October with The Australian broadsheet, and then for certain parts of the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun tabloids after that.

The price of a digital subscription will be $2.95 a week, including an iPad and Android app, website and mobile site; and you will be able to get all this plus a print subscription for $7.95 a week. The argument is that there is a need for newspapers to migrate to a new business model; and that, if we want high-quality journalism, then we must support experimentation.

The old business model is broken beyond repair, given the accelerating erosion of circulation and advertising revenue to the free online environment. Journalists are under great stress, as their authority has vanished with the disruption caused by the new online media.

I presume this is an experiment in which News Ltd tries to keep most of its traffic and display advertising revenues while generating a new stream of income and a valuable database of engaged readers. Pay walls may save broadsheet newspapers such as The Australian, even if the number of readers plummets.

Charging for general material that was freely available on the ABC is pointless, but News Ltd is banking on the idea that readers of The Australian will pay for access to their beloved columnists to create digital revenues. Even if the quality is way better than that produced by the comic style columnists such as Piers Akerman or Andrew Bolt at News Ltd's tabloids I don't associate The Australian with high-quality journalism from a conservative perspective.

The Australian has broken with the he said, she said style journalism and the code of fact and objectivity, and the appropriate use of language and tone, that is the ethos of the professionalism of modern journalism. However, I increasingly associate the newspaper with partisan journalism:--eg., the campaigns against the ABC, NBN, climate change, The Greens, Muslims etc ---and columnists such as Janet Albrechtsen, Michael Stutchbury, Glenn Milne, Henry Ergas, Angela Shanahan, Dennnis Shanahan and Christopher Pearson. I find that I read the Australian's columnists less and less online at my workstation computer.

Even when the newspaper is free in my local coffee shop I generally skip it. It's strong editorial and political stance comes through in its general reporting on national affairs, business, media and higher education. All that you need to know is that it endeavours to set the political agenda and establish what that agenda is.

That narrative--Labor sucks, bash up the left, and the inner city elites hate ordinary Australians--- is its contribution to my need, as a citizen, to stay informed and participating in public life. So I won't really miss the lack of access by not paying a subscription.

But then I'm not an engaged conservative reader who hates the ALP. and thinks that they are wrecking the country. I'm someone who would like to see News Ltd broken up because its media power is too concentrated in Australia and its political power too great. That power is being used like a sledgehammer.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 1:02 PM | | Comments (28)
Comments

Comments

Besides, if you want to know how the Australian is reporting something you can get it for free at the ABC. Our public broadcaster will likely be the first to sign up.

Lyn say, "If you want to know how the Australian is reporting something you can get it for free at the ABC."

I hear the Australian's position on national affairs continually articulated by Fran Kelly on Radio Nationals' Breakfast. It's her default position when questioning Labor ministers.

Heh too true Lyn. But one can only hope they put all the columnists behind the firewall and then they won't be the subject of the interminable, breathless "OMG have you read the offensive rubbish xxx wrote today" posts that tend to dominate some blogs. Sad to say, it might be offensive rubbish but so often these clowns still set the agenda for public discussion. It would be ironic if Murdoch's need to make some money from his business deprives his demagogues of their dominant public platform.

News Ltd won't be able to attack amateur bloggers for producing derivative work (cutting and pasting ) that is parasitic on its the reporting by its professional news producers.

Of course, they will continue to spit and yell at the whinging, carping and whining bloggers because they fear that bloggers will replace journalists. The latter are full of fear for a lost business model; and for their watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people.

I no longer trust professional journalists in the mainstream media institutions, especially those engaged in the culture war.

The story they have been telling themselves about what they do and why--they ask the tough questions because they investigate behind the scenes to hold the govt accountable--has broken down big time.

They are no longer professional gatekeepers telling us what happens and why. They've been found out.

I only read it if it is the only paper in the rack at macas but I am willing to bet that they know their market and it will be a profitable success. Reading it online during the week and getting the printed edition on Saturday sounds like it would appeal to those that like it now. The price is reasonable and without change it will most likely die a slow death anyway. So its straight ahead and on till morning.

Will it go away, if no-one can read it any more?

I talked very briefly with a couple of journalists from the Australian recently. They both said the Fairfax press was 'evil'. God knows what's happening in Holt Street but it does sounds bizarre.

John C

I can imagine that Holt Street would regard the ABC as "evil" (public broadcaster and all that) but Fairfax? Is that because they are liberal rather than a competitor? Some have claimed that unreason (bigotry, prejudice, superstition etc) died with the enlightenment. Holt Street, like the shock jocks on the radio, puts paid to that claim.

paul,
the trouble is that the conservative base would continue to support The Australian as engaged readers bashing up those on the left. They love to have their buttons pushed and they see the caricature, insult, emotive language as commonsense. It will become a separate information silo in which the conservative tribe gather close and the engaged readers in the silo don’t talk to outsiders.

News Ltd is about money and power first. Content is just a way of getting and maintaining those.

The Australian hasn't been profitable for years and I can't see how a paywall is going to change that. The money these days is in sport on pay tv. The rest of the empire props up the Australian because of the power and influence it has as the agenda setter.

Joe Public subscribers don't matter. As long as politicians, other media outlets and the usual circle jerkers subscribe and keep repeating whatever the Australian prints.

John C
maybe Holt St is caught up in the "clash of civilizations" and thinks that Fairfax is on the wrong side?

lyn,
"News Ltd is about money and power first. Content is just a way of getting and maintaining those....the money these days is in sport on pay tv."

That 's right.

News Ltd's newspapers must be continuing to lose print readers and the online Australian would continue to make little money from advertising. Hence the paywall to increase the cash flow. If there are ways to create profits using news created by journalists, as opposed to partisan shouting, then it will prosper. High priced inside the Beltway news service for an elite audience with narrow, special interests--- will prosper, as opposed to news for mainstream news consumer outside the loop.

Money and power first explains Ltd's opposition to the national broadband network. It provides an opportunity for ISP's to provide online television (eg.,Fetchtv) thereby threatening Foxtel's cash flow and market reach. The national broadband network will, thankfully, make it possible for a greater diversity of online media. So the NBN must be attacked--just like the ABC has to be attacked.

"Joe Public subscribers don't matter".

The idea that quality journalism is essential to a healthy democracy has become almost cliche, often with little definition, defense, or explanation. Of course, journalism should inform, it should engage, it should speak truth to power and so help citizens govern.

Where is that kind of journalism in Australia? One that help us talk to others, to strangers? A journalism that is vital to democracy?

What we have is an ideological fracturing; a retreat into ideological niches full of angry people.

We’ve entered a period in which the partisan divisions that shaped the first half of the Labor administration will play out in a different way. Battles will be waged with the usual weapons—a mix of facts, spin, and soundbites which can be difficult to tease apart.

Australian conservative populist politics is an increasingly shrill game of posturing, bitterness, anger and paranoia. More than ever, complex historical forces are interpreted through the lens of conspiracy—or rather, the notion of the virtuous citizen locked in battle against big leftwing government, and a decadent elite.

What can the media do to be a force for a more productive democratic conversation in the context of dishonest and deceptive rhetoric and outright lies? Currently politics in is not a fact driven discussion. Politics is a narrative driven discussion in which complex policy subjects are digested by journalists with little policy knowledge. They give stories not facts.

The charging for digital content reduces traffic by the mass commercial print media may well jeopardize the meager yet growing digital advertising revenue. News Ltd hopes that charging more to a smaller, but more devoted, subscription-paying audience can make up for that loss.

For much of the media, finding the right income-stream balance—between advertising and subscriptions—has become an existential question. The Australian is trying to find a model that allows their influential newsrooms to keep humming along. How much much news can they pull back behind an online veil.

What has begun to emerge in the media market is private news--Eureka Report --- that has the right mix of focused, professional content that is sold to a relatively small client base, usually bundled with data, for extremely high rates. It is not consumer news or content---it is a news engine that exists for one purpose, and that is to help their clients make money.

Rupert will still have the Foxtel/SkyNews platform to push the same Yellow Journalism from, and increasingly this cross platform model will be used by Murdoch. Same same but different, as the saying goes.
Also I have heard the disturbing rumour that Murdoch is just laying in wait for the NBN to be privatised so that he can buy that too. He can afford to outbid anyone else, and if he has his puppet Abbott installed in the top job in Australia then it should be a very easy goal for him to achieve. Or one of his children.

"What has begun to emerge in the media market is private news--Eureka Report",

The private news organizations, such as Eureka Report, have moved into the mass consumer space---eg., Business Spectator--- and they have done so without reducing the value of the information they offer to their high-paying, private client base.

Currently they use the consumer exposure to market the time-honored money-making side of their operations.

So we have private/public hybrid which works if a moneyed elite is willing to pay for privileged access to information. So we have a widening divide of information and knowledge.

"News' Ltd's decision to adopt a "freemium" model -- a mix of free and paid content similar to The Wall Street Journal-- "

"Freemium”—was first popularized by New York venture capitalist Fred Wilson—to describe the mix of free and premium (i.e., very expensive) content.Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine, in his recent book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, says that “freemium” is the dominant business model of the Internet age.

Anderson, for instance, gives away electronic copies of his book to help build a personal brand he cashes in on by giving speeches.

If Rupert was wanting to buy the NBN, wouldn't his empire be supporting it? Although that would mean supporting something the Gillard Govt is doing, and we couldn't have that.

It may be more useful to regard the people working at the australian as members of a cult. There is a rigid doctrine, a charismatic leader and heretics are looked on as evil.

The "New" Australian will not just be the old one converted to your computer. It will be different. The paid version will probably link to visual media like interviews and editorial from sky news and other things they own. It will be a cheap starter that feeds to more paid services. Other papers they have will feed other demographics to them.

Les,
that may well be the case. My central criticism of the paywall strategy is that The Australian will not produce enough quality journalism to generate enough subscriptions for the site to make a profit.

The reason? Partisanship that yells at you rather than argues a case. Tim Dunlop puts it well:

The Australian is ground zero for hardline, anti-Labor, so-called "campaigning" journalism, a position that has solidified since federal Labor came to power in 2007. This editorial disposition has made them a laughing stock amongst at least half the market for serious journalism that Simons is suggesting they are going to need to make the paywall pay.

In other words, The Australian's overt partisanship - which has seen them not only turn Newspoll into a tool for generating anti-Labor stories but has also led them to offer possibly the worst coverage of climate change of any broadsheet in the Western world -- has alienated a sizeable percentage of their potential audience.

The explicit partisanship plus low quality journalism is not a good strategy for maximising the number people in Australia who will cough up - in perpetuity, week after week - money for The Australian's product. The right of centre market, who love the partisanship and its contempt for those left of centre, is too small to generate a profit through a paywall.

Maybe News Ltd don't want The Australian to make a profit as Dunlop assumes. Maybe they just want to cut their losses?

"It may be more useful to regard thee people working at the australian as members of a cult. There is a rigid doctrine, a charismatic leader and heretics are looked on as evil."

They certainly dislike criticism. They become defensive and rather hostile and aggressive when their interpretations of issues are questioned.

Gary,
From where I sit it seems that most of the criticism about the Australian comes from those that feel that it doesn't agree with their opinions. Bloggers and blog readers do tend to have strong opinions.

Speaking of media behind walls, a nasty story of Pilger's banning in the US just in the last day, is starting to seep out onto the internet.
As I replied to criticism of my comment at Cub Troppo, I didn't read about this anywhere local, but found out from a South African FB friend. Asleep, or just busy censoring, the local media?

To be fair I think the critism of the Australian does come about one aspect of the paper.
I do not hear any critism of the excellent sport coverage or the Arts section, the great cartooning, business section, media and that you get all of that for less than 2 bucks delivered to your door if you want.
Perhaps some Laybores should watch for specials on dummies at terry white chemists and move on.

Les,
you assume that the press ‘informs’ the public. However, ‘the public’ is actually having a conversation with itself. The conversation is going on with or without them.

The Australian is trying to control that conversation. News organizations like The Australian think it is their role to lead the conversation (they set the agenda), allow the conversation (you may now comment on our story, now that it’s done), and judge the conversation (often sniffing at vox polloi).