Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘rupert murdoch’ tag

Stick it up your paywall: Guardian rolls out new content plugin

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EDIT: This literally never worked on any of my blogs. Neat idea, poor execution.

The Guardian has launched a new WordPress plugin that allows self-hosted bloggers to reprint content from newspaper’s website.

The Guardian News Feed plugin is surely designed to act as a direct counterpoint to talk of paywalls and charging for newspaper content and is an extension of the Grauniad’s Open Platform system, which allows people who sign up to access the paper’s massive databanks and develops apps based on it via an API.

There are over 1m articles available published as far back as 1999 available through the plugin, which theoretically looks quite simple, and users can do pretty much anything they want with the articles, so long as they leave the actual content and code alone.

This is pretty much an ultimate expression of the idea of content as online currency – exchanging content, apps or services for traffic, leads and revenue.

In this case, the Guardian content is exchanged for increased traffic, backlinks, harvested data and ad revenues, leading to more exposure, brand equity, SEO juice and cash.

A screenshot of the Guardian News Feed plugin back-end

It’s hard to see a downside for The Guardian. By signing up and republishing articles from the site I had to enter more data about myself and every Guardian article reprinted on my blog gets more backlinks, domain authority and ad clicks for the paper’s website.

Depending on what they do with anchor text and ads, they can probably pull off targeted SEO campaigns and ad campaigns too. Now multiply that by potentially hundreds of thousands of blogs around the world.

In return I get a nifty new toy to play with, potentially higher traffic and – arguably – a little more authority. If I’m clever and use the articles well I could even get a boost in search engines and ad revenues too, if I displayed ads on my blogs.

The exchange is complete, both parties have something of value. It sounds like a win-win situation, and it’s a great way to further leverage the latent value in the Guardian’s article bank, by doing virtually nothing on an ongoing basis.

Already some on Twitter have started to voice their scorn about the plugin. And, really, what we have here is a very clever form of inbound marketing, using the Grauniad’s massive and powerful archive of content – it’s simply leveraging that content to make money in the same way that Murdoch is trying to leverage The Times’ content via a paywall.

Whereas The Times uses content for more explicit transaction – using content as a currency to generate cash directly, the Guardian’s more elegant approach delivers all sorts of other benefits, besides revenues – brand equity, SEO authority, increased engagement – albeit somewhat nebulous and of indeterminate cash value.

But it’s a smart bit of PR too – while everyone was talking about News International’s attempts to place more value on its content by charging for access, The Guardian is throwing its content out to whomever wants to use it; it can be sold as a direct, and opposite, move to that of Murdoch.

Finally, I’d hoped to include an article using the news feed below, but I can’t get it to work – probably something to do with my host I suspect. Which just goes to show that even the simplest, most elegant, ideas can be undermined by a lack of technical nous or user error.

Go here for instructions and more deetails

Written by Robin Brown

July 2nd, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Wot will win the 2010 election?

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There’s been something awful about this election, beyond the stuff that’s usually awful about elections.

Alongside how utterly hopeless the media at large have been in actually reporting the issues – as opposed to some things David Cameron has said, some suits Nick Clegg has worn and some mistakes Gordon Brown has made – there’s been the most naked display of vested interests for nearly 20 years.

The likes of The Mail and The Express adopt frothingly bigoted political lines because it’s what helps them sell papers, and it reflects the unpleasant ideologies of their respective owners.

The Torygraph backs the Conservatives because it’s read mainly by retired Brigadiers who remember the Boer War. The Star… well, who gives a flying one what the Star thinks eh?

As for The Sun and The Times, well, they back whoever proprietor Rupert Murdoch tells them to back, based on various deals with whichever party he reckons will win the election and deliver the goods.

This time around it’s barely even a secret that Murdoch, or rather his son James, wants to open a new front against the BBC, and has promised David Cameron his backing in exchange for crippling the Beeb.

The Sun always makes a big deal of wanting to look like its support is the deciding factor in an election campaign, but in reality Murdoch backs whoever he calculates is most likely to win.

In years gone by, back to 1997 and throughout the 80s, this was fairly easy to predict. The only recent blip was 1992, where the Sun pulled out all of the stops to virtually suggest that Neil Kinnock was insane.

‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It,’ gloated the Scum, so we know who to thanks for the following five years of the dross from John Major’s crumbling government.

’92 is an election regularly debated by students of psephology – a smart word for voting behaviour – because all the polls suggested that Labour would win. Could it have been the rabidly hostile Tory press than won it for Major? Tough to say, but I’ve never been in doubt as to the potential power of the media in politics.

One need only look at the last 18 months of absolute slating Gordon Brown – like Major, a decent man – has endured from the Sun, Mail and Telegraph; the results of which are that most people in the country now despise him without actually knowing why.

Anyway, 2010 should provide another clue as to the power of the media in elections because, having backed Cameron, the Murdoch press now faces the possibility of their man not actually winning. What will that do for the Sun’s habit of picking a winner? Or Murdoch’s latest ambitions?

The palpable desperation emanating from the front pages of the Sun recently has been almost pitiful, culminating in today’s risible front cover where Simon F’in Cowell appears to give his support to Cameron.

Delve inside the paper (if you can bear to) and you’ll find article after article telling us how much Sun readers love Cameron, and how a hung parliament will mean that Britain will fall into a volcano. Except, that’s not what Sun readers voting in polls on the online version have been saying.

Malcolm Coles has shown as much with some number-crunching on Sun polls, which show that its readers believe that Clegg won the third debate; Sun readers aren’t fussed about a hung parliament; and that a poll apparently showing Mums to be swinging behind Cameron shows nothing of the sort.

The Sun has gone into Cameron overdrive, barely stopping short of suggesting that WebCameron’s cock is bigger than Brown’s and Clegg’s put together, and offering a kind of non-stop tabloid blowjob to the Photoshopped Tory leader.

The rise of Clegg has also sent shivers down the spine at News International, so a full-scale assault was subsequently launched on the Lib Dems.

Unlike the US, where Fox News is basically a propaganda arm for the lunatic US right wing, the UK broadcast media is bound by strict rules of impartiality. Bad news for Murdoch Junior, who wants to extend Sky into a kind of Death Star of the media.

But this election campaign has brought the first whispers that Sky’s news coverage has not appeared to be quite as straight down the line as it should. And David Cameron has appeared to suggest that broadcasting regulations may need an overhaul. What can it all mean?

People have told me that Murdoch Senior is actually fairly left-of-centre, as far as his personal politics are concerned. What’s more he’s fairly friendly with Brown, and hit it off big style with Tony.

But Murdoch doesn’t let politics get in the way of business, and having been persuaded by son James to back Cameron, has had to throw the combined News International weight behind Cameron and the Tories.

What will happen? For the first time since 1992 I have no idea, as far as the election goes. As for the press, it’s been fascinating to see the Sun frantically attempting to shore up its man, knowing that its reputation is at stake. Indeed, the FT suggests that the Sun’s backing for Cameron has had the opposite effect.

A defeat for Cameron may mean that the rise of multimedia and the web has neutered the power of the papers in this regard, and with it the power of print media barons.

A win could open up a new front in partisan media, via Sky News and the humbling of the BBC, because Murdoch’s help won’t come without strings. Then, maybe, it won’t be the Sun wot wins it in the future, but the Sky.

2010 – the stupid election

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I’ve watched all of the coverage in this general election through my fingers, as the whole thing is beyond cringe-worthy.

I mean this in several ways: David Cameron’s smug face; the media annihilation of Brown; the ghastly media commentators; the desperation of the Murdoch press in making sure their man gets in; and the self-congratulatory tone of the whole thing when the media thinks it’s done something clever like catching Brown out in an off-guarded moment today where he referred to a woman as ‘bigoted’.

It’s changed the whole tone and focus of the election into even more of a menagerie than it has been previously, with the pantomime of the TV debates and the absurd merry-go-round of opinion polls and predictions and tiresome echo chamber chatter that generates heat and no light whatsoever.

In an election campaign where there’s a crippling deficit caused by a near-depression hanging over the whole business, the dominating impressions will all be Brown’s gaffe, Clegg’s ascension and celebrity endorsements.

Today has been taken up with a million tedious Twitter updates tagged with #bigotgate; multi-spectral analysis of the audio clip from Brown’s car; political correspondents’ boring takes; shit advice from PRs and crisis management wonks trying desperately to sound like they have something important to say; and pompous, nay patronising, pieces on the great unwashed of the North.

The truth is, what Gillian Duffy had to say about immigrants was ill-informed and could be judged as bigoted. Another truth is, Brown made an off-the-cuff remark in the privacy of his car. Who’d've thunk? Politicians, like real people, say one thing in public and another in private.

A silly thing to say then, but one which will be a defining moment of the election campaign – if we believe what the media are telling us. This is not news; it’s what the TV, papers and websites are telling us is news. I expect we’ll hear all sort of things about how this was the moment the election exploded into life now, but that’s really total bollocks.

It’s the moment the story of election has exploded into life, because the three main political parties have been playing a relatively straight bat and talking about boring things like National Insurance. The media has had little to get its teeth into, and the Murdoch media has been ignoring the Lib Dems completely.

A hung parliament has been a hard sell from the point of view of a news editor, a political correspondent or a pundit. But it doesn’t really get any better than Brown attacking an old woman, with a side serving of immigration angst.

What opinion polls should be asking people in the UK at the moment is not ‘who will you vote for?’ or ‘Will Gordon Brown be the death of us all?’ or ‘Do you like Nick Clegg’s wife?’ – it should be ‘Have you really got the first fucking idea about politics?’

Because from where I’m standing this is the stupidest election I can remember. And when you look at the blank faces; the mumbling about immigration or the need for ‘change’; the despicable ‘Broken Britain’ refrain; or the witless scorn of poor, hapless Gordon Brown for his awkwardness and gaffes, don’t blame the people. Don’t even blame the politicians. Blame the media.

We’ll always have Murdoch and his papers that swing behind whoever has thrown the old tyrant a juicier bone; we’ll always have vested interests and ideologues and iconoclasts urging us to swing one way or the other.

The real culprit is the media as a whole, an entity that has lost sight of any idea of how to report politics without some kind of populist framing device; how to inform and educate without trying to entertain; how to report politics, fundamentally.

Watching this campaign has been like watching some sort of Chris Morris work of art. 15 years after The Day Today we finally have rolling news telling us absolutely fuck all, the silly graphics and the news networks setting their own empty agendas.

It’s politics repackaged as a ghastly reality TV show, never mind for the MTV generation, this is for the BBC3 and E4 and Sky One generation. It’s the election where the news just gave up and went to watch Glee, safe in the knowledge that people aren’t really that interested in deficits anyway.

Bill Clinton had a popular slogan in the 1992 Presidential election, designed to keep the issues forefront in the minds of voters; “Its the economy, stupid!”

2010? It’s the stupid, stupid.

Written by Robin Brown

April 28th, 2010 at 10:49 pm

How the Huffington Post helped Rupert Murdoch

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The Huffington Post was number one in The Observer’s 50 Most Powerful Blogs at the weekend, alongside plenty of other aggregators.

The Post, says the article, ‘hoovered up traffic’ and ‘made the first generation of bloggers look like two-bit prospectors panning for nuggets in shallow creeks before the big mining operations moved in’.

This is, undoubtedly, true and a pretty decent simile to describe the awesome site’s Death Star-like entry into the blogosphere.

But the Huffington Post isn’t just a big mining operation – it’s a strip-mine operation that decimates the blogging landscape by using the value of whatever it republishes, vaguely repackaging it and leaving a credit-plus-link behind.

Huff Post editors will argue that those links and that traffic are of value to the original site, but really the Post’s aggregation model is the online equivalent of harvesting a village’s annual crop and leaving behind an IOU. The Observer article continues:

In the era pre-Huffington, big media companies ignored the web, or feared it; post-Huffington they started to treat it as just another marketplace, open to exploitation.

That much is true. Huffington, and other mega-blogs like Gawker, opened the door for aggregators that use work done by other people to generate cash, traffic and engagement.

But Huffington and others like it have gone beyond aggregation as it used to be understood; it scrapes, albeit using a human hand as opposed to a bot, taking much more than a header and abstract. Was the effort that went into your blog post or article really worth that hard-to-find link back from the aggregator?

In its wake, other mass meta-aggregators such as Mahalo have followed, blurring the definition of ‘fair use’. It’s a tough one to call, but it’s easy to make apocalyptic predictions about where this sort of thing ends. What else is left when everything has been mined of its value?

Ironically, The Huffington Post was set up to take on the right-wing US blogs and news corporations; to provide a ‘liberal’ point of view and media beast to rebalance the landscape.

But by introducing the slash-and-burn aggregation model to publishing content, it’s allowed corporate behemoths to enter the mass aggregation game, with revenue-generation as the first and last priority.

And, greatest irony of all, Mahalo – a great black hole of aggregation – is backed by none other than News Corp; the greatest enemy of mass aggregation in the world.

So, when you’re confronted with SERPs results consisting of content scraped by Mahalo, earning plenty of cash for Rupert Murdoch into the bargain, remember to thank The Huffington Post.

Written by Robin Brown

March 30th, 2010 at 1:27 pm

Bums on seats – 6Music’s threatened demise shows the BBC doesn’t know what it’s for any more

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The BBC has been worrying me for a while now, like a once-treasured friend who’s getting mixed up in some bad stuff.

For Strictly Ballroom Come Celebrity RollerBlading see crack. For the Lonely Planet purchase see scratch cards. Megamillions for Jonathan Ross and Graham Norton is a maxed-out credit card.

But, now an again, there’s flashes of the old friend you remember. The Winter Olympics, Life, Doctor Who, Newswipe, Adam and Joe on 6Music.

The BBC is schizophrenic, it simply doesn’t know what it’s supposed to do any more, so it does everything. It knows it needs to lead the UK’s digital revolution, but doesn’t understand where its public sector remit ends and commercialisation begins; it knows it needs to cater for mass audiences, but doesn’t know where to draw the line; it knows it needs to maximise revenues, but doesn’t grasp that it can’t do this to the detriment of other publishing businesses.

The BBC has expanded without thought or reason. It seems unlikely that any one person can realistically control its growth or expansion into virgin territories. 20 years ago it constituted two national TV stations and four national radio stations. Now, who knows?

I’ve lost count of the radio stations, and the television stations. The website’s size is staggering and awesome. To navigate it at random must be like wandering around Television Centre’s bowels, a surprise around every door.

The Beeb’s commercial activities worry me, because they undermine its remit and provide fodder for its many enemies – ideological and commercial – to attack with. And with some justification.

Semi-automomous franchises like Top Gear bemuse me. They worry commercial outfits. It’s easy to see why.

Despite the drip-drip of attacks – from GMG, News International, Associated Press, Sky, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 – the Beeb still has a huge amount of authority and place in the affections of the British people.

That means it can wield an enormous amount of commercial power, simply because of who it is – and with great power comes great responsibility. The Beeb does not always use it wisely.

So the BBC creates enemies for itself in the search of a quick buck, or a land grab of publishing territory. This is unnecessary, but it’s also creating a great big stick for others to beat it with.

Step forward the Conservative Party, who will not blink twice at humbling the BBC in return for Rupert Murdoch’s backing for a few years; an old enemy vanquished and some press loyalty for a term or two.

Against this backdrop, the BBC has panicked. Services need to be cut and hair shirts worn. A few cosmetic changes should suffice in the run-up to an election. Sell a few bits of real estate, pension off Ross and Brand, and bin off a couple of minority radio stations.

Except, hang on, those minority radio stations are exactly what the BBC is supposed to be about. Catering for minority interests? All that Reithian gubbins?

I’ve never listened to the Asian Network, but I do listen to 6Music, and used to have it one 24/7 before Leslie Douglas did her level best to ruin it for being too interesting.

The fact that I listen to one and not the other is of no importance though, they both deserve equal consideration, because they go to the heart of what the BBC should be about.

That is not a nostalgic plea, it’s simple political expediency. For the BBC to stake a claim to £3.5bn of the public’s money every year it needs to demonstrate that it fulfils a need that cannot be satisfied by commercial broadcasters.

That is clearly not the case with BBC1, BBC3, Radio1 or, arguably, 5 Live. But it clearly is the case with 6Music. Where else can one hear alternative music of any quality?

Not from any commercial broadcasters that I can think of – they inevitably run out of cash and have to move back to the mainstream, because no local double glazing fitter in his right mind wants to advertise in between Asian Dub Foundation and Grizzly Bear.

There is an inherent risk in the BBC positioning itself as a minority pursuit, it can be pared back to arty-farty stuff with no compunction by an unfriendly government in that case – as Frank Field recently suggested. A slow death, for sure.

The Beeb must walk a fine balancing act: for every Strictly Come Dancing there must be a new Adam Curtis documentary; for every Family Guy a Mad Men; for every Newsbeat a Newswipe.

But to strip the BBC of 6Music would be to leave it fatally unbalanced, and shorn of one of the fig leaves that conceal its humiliated public sector remit.

It is a radio station of unparalleled quality in terms of many of its DJs and music. It’s one of the really good bits of that fading friend, the reason you retain a fundamental respect and love for them; the flash of brilliance set against the ugly backdrop.

Because to tolerate Horne and Corden you need an Adam and Joe.

• The image is a new version of the Berk and Hair image I did for MyToryTombstone. They adapted it for 6Music, so it seemed fitting to use it here

Written by Robin Brown

March 1st, 2010 at 11:02 pm

The Sun drops Labour, but there are wider issues at stake

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Idiot comic The Sun has unsurprisingly switched its allegiance to the Conservatives, having declared that the Labour government has ‘lost its way’.

This supposed revelation is as unsurprising as its timing – immediately following Gordon Brown’s rallying cry to the Labour faithful at the Labour conference.

In a clear lie the Sun’s political editor, George Pascoe-Watson, stated that the announcement was not scheduled to cause maximum political damage. That’s absurd in itself, but also because no-one really believes a lowly tabloid political editor would be allowed to make a decision like this.

The clear originator is Rupert Murdoch, who can spot a trend when he sees one. Psephologists have long argued about the impact the media has one voting behaviour. To my mind it once did, but I don’t think that anything as explicit as people obeying newspapers on election days rings true any more. Class dealignment, party dealignment, paper dealignment.

Murdoch probably knows that, which is why he’s unwilling to lose face by backing Labour – a long shot at best – at the next election. That way the idea that the Sun is the prime mover in an election victory can be maintained.

In doing so Murdoch can also leverage his fearsome media arsenal against David Cameron if he so chooses. Murmurs from the Tories regarding the BBC will not have gone unnoticed, and Murdoch can probably rub his hands in glee at the prospect of another chunk of media real estate becoming available to News International.

This raises the prospect of a British Fox News, based on the American version that delights in spouting bigotry in every form. Such broadcast channels are currently outlawed in the UK, but Cameron has already indicated that he wouldn’t obstruct them as Prime Minister.

It’s here that I think the media still has a strong influence on thinking and behaviors, the insidious drip-drip that may not explicitly back politicians or parties, but steadily reinforces right-wing values by broadcasting ignorance, fear and intolerance.

Couple that to a neutered BBC and a media landscape that could also be missing the Indie and the Observer by next year and it’s a grim prospect for a healthy Fourth Estate.

Written by Robin Brown

September 30th, 2009 at 1:35 pm

#welovethebbc

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I don’t know why people like James Murdoch, and his father before him, are invited to give MacTaggart lectures – it’s not as if anyone is going to hear anything they didn’t expect to.

Rather like a left-winger reaching vicariously for a Sun or Express in a hotel lobby room to experience the frisson of outrage, or Mary Whitehouse reaching for a Razzle, the Edinburgh media scrum seems to take great delight in a bout of extended self-flagellation.

Well, half of them do. As we already know the other half have it in for the BBC for a variety of corporate, ideological or score-settling issues.

It’s easy to see why. As digital platforms have rolled out, the BBC has kept pace. In 20 years it’s gone from under ten national radio and TV channels to a vast multimedia empire. And it’s likely to continue growing – that is, essentially, its remit – at least as far as its news coverage is concerned.

This threatens a lot of people, myself included to a degree, as it raises a number of questions about the reach of the BBC and its effect on the journalism and media market. How can news platforms make money from their news services when the Beeb does it all for free?

There’s an important issue to be addressed there but this growing, if fairly limited, base of unease about the expansion of the BBC has been recently used by a number of critics to take a pot-shot at the organisation.

Much of these can be tracked down to self-interest. Other media groups such as the Guardian Media Group, Associated Newspapers and News International have their own interests to safeguard. They often post fairly wild attacks on the Beeb for its ‘land-grab’ expansion – a subtly pejorative term that has been reinforced again and again.

James Murdoch used it at the weekend, along with the following references and terms:

[The UK is] it’s the Addams family of world media

The land grab is spear-headed by the BBC. The scale and scope of its current activities and future ambitions is chilling.

state-sponsored journalism

state-sponsored news

pocket-Pravdas

[On the one hand] authoritarianism: endless intervention, regulation and control.

[For them] the abolition of media boundaries is a trumpet call to expansion: to do more, regulate more, control more.

Sixty years ago George Orwell published 1984. Its message is more relevant now than ever.
As Orwell foretold, to let the state enjoy a near-monopoly of information is to guarantee manipulation and distortion.

It’s a rather faux-intellectual sixth-form style diatribe against regulation in all of its forms and the Beeb and Ofcom in particular. It flirts with some important points, but all of this is lost in the hyperbole and off-kilter references.

There’s a rather bizarre passage that compares the BBC to creationism, which then segues into another half-witted metaphor about bananas and the redundancy of regulation. This, naturally leads to ‘state-sponsored news’ – a deliberately misleading titbit thrown to the kind of right-wing loons who think the NHS is trying to kill them.

The message is clear – not only does regulation not work, it’s actively evil. What the world needs is unfettered free-market capitalism, in broadcasting as well as banking (although, of course, Murdoch didn’t mention Sky’s utter domination of pretty much ever significant sporting event in the UK following the government’s craven deregulation of that market).

Thankfully on hand to take Murdoch to task over this untimely assertion over free markets was BBC credit crunch boffin Robert Peston, who pointed out that deregulation in economic sectors recently landed us with the worst recession in 80 years.

Murdoch’s attack reminds me of the smear politics of the American right – beginning a discourse with an attack so hysterical and out-there that it drags the tone and battleground of the following debate in the attacker’s favour.

Murdoch’s attack will launch a new broadside against the organisation, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that there’s a general election next year, during which Gordon Brown and WebCameron will be hoping for some help from the Sun.

So, gear up for some serious Auntie bashing from the usual suspects over the next few weeks, indeed the next year.

Gear up for free-marketeers pushing the monopoly line; hand-wringing articles from The Grauniad about how a pay-for-content platform can work while the Beeb is offering it for free; and ideological attacks from various lunatics seizing on Murdoch’s provocative (and deliberate) accusations about state-sponsored news and Orwellian organisations.

The death-by-1000-cuts assault has begun. Yes they’ve been much more sober and considered than Murdoch’s, but a variety of big beasts have decided that now is the time to voice their opinions that the BBC would be much better if ‘slimmed down’ and focussed on ‘core values’.

This is the start of a concerted effort to neuter the Beeb as a commercial threat, designed to cripple it as a news and broadcasting organisation.

The BBC has a big part to play in organising its own defence, and needs to come out fighting, reminding people of its value and important role in British culture. And it also needs to drop its bums-on-seats approach that has led to the arms race with ITV and SKy over big events, big-name signings and stupid paychecks.

But it also needs to address issues pertaining to its use of the licence fee to fund operations that clash with existing commercial ones and re-orientating itself in the digital world in a way that does not impinge unnecessarily on private enterprise.

Those supporting the Beeb need only look to how successful social media was in correcting and combatting slurs about the NHS. Despite their faults, I love the NHS, and I love the BBC too.

• Full MacTaggart text here: http://www.broadcastnow.co.uk/comment/james-murdochs-mactaggart-speech/5004990.article

Free content might kill journalism, but charging for content won’t work either

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The web is having one of its occasional spasms about where journalism, the web, content and newspapers are going.

The internet community does this occasionally, in the same way that I sometimes have a chill of fear about climate change but swiftly forget all about it and put the kettle on.

The issue is fairly simple. Everyone cocked up the internet model of delivering content a few years ago by radically overestimating the amount of revenue the internet would generate.

Back then everyone thought the net would replace newspapers, and online ad revenue replace print ad revenue. To a significant extent it has, but it does not deliver anywhere near the revenue needed to replace that lost by print and other traditional media.

Kicking off this latest round of hand-wringing is Rupert Murdoch, who says he will start to charge for online content and Robert Picard, who says journalists need to adapt to a new world, and quickly.

The opposing view, maintained chiefly by web libertarians and social media zealots, is that everything on the internet should be free.

I don’t think either of these positions really addresses the root of the problem. The major issue is that, increasingly, consumers expect to access data, analysis, information, entertainment and services for free.

Clearly, this model is not sustainable, but the alternative is to try to return the genie to the bottle – to persuade people to go back to shelling out for quality information, media and services.

David Hepworth put it like this on his blog:

At some stage users have to start paying or watch the thing they value just drain away.

And therein lies the rub. I think this will be next to impossible in an environment where free music, film, literature and software are the norm.

iPlayer, Youtube, Spotify – all are legal and all are free, though Youtube is apparently in some financial trouble and may be forced to introduce some form of payment model.

Flickr has a premium service, but I’ve heard the Yahoo!-owned site is also losing money. If those services become pay-as-you-go or subscription there’s always Bittorrent.

No-one knows how to make these services pay for themselves, and every day they are available for free it will be harder to convince users to pay for something they’re used to getting for nothing.

I think any efforts to charge for content will be doomed to failure. The net will simply redistribute it for free, via what is now termed ‘extreme aggregation’ and used to be called copyright infringement.

The issue of copyright on the web also seems blurred these days, with so many blogs existing on repasting material from news and picture agencies, with seemingly little consideration of the legalities of the situation.

It’s simple supply and demand. And boy is there demand.

At the other extreme I don’t see how any kind of professional journalism can exist in a world where everything is consumed for free. Where will the revenue come from to pay these professional journos?

Bloggers versus journalists, new versus old, free versus paid

There’s a strange debate I’m kind of in the middle of relating to the blogger versus journalist issue – new versus old media put crudely – as I pretty much qualify as both.

This war of words is chiefly played out between the NUJ, who come off as pompous, snotty and out-of-touch and a coterie of senior bloggers and self-styled Web 2.0 evangelists, who come off as smug and over-confident.

The NUJ is getting its knickers in a twist about citizen journalism taking food off the plates of trained journalists and, as far as the NUJ are concerned, not offering anything like the same quality.

Web journalism

The most strident aspects of the blogosphere stress that newspapers and journalists need to embrace the possibilities of Web 2.0, and seem to me to hint that so-called ‘citizen’ journalism is making pro journalists redundant.

I’m very ambivalent about all of this, because I recognise the value of social media and blogging and engage with it.

On the other hand I recognise the usually superior value in professional journalism, and fear for the future of journalism without it.

This is something I expect we will only realise when all the last newspapers have disappeared off the face of the Earth.

Picard’s viewpoint doesn’t recognise the value in strong journalism, although he eventually makes some good points in a hideously waffly article – journalists need to play a part in shaping old media organisations.

Certainly, newspapers can go some way to meeting the new world by training journalists as a kind of all-in-one journalism Swiss army knife, versed in writing, subbing, online writing, coding, image editing, SEO and moving image media.

But that still doesn’t address how newspapers earn money from their content, it will simply reduce costs (and jobs) and goes some way to preparing for a multi-media consumption model.

Where the revenue comes from, especially when it becomes clear that few consumers will be willing to pay for content, is anyone’s guess.

Maybe ad revenues will pick up, maybe some miraculous new platform will figure out how to make money out of freely available content.

But I wouldn’t bet on it, and the method of delivery is rather by-the-bye. The question everyone should be asking is not how to save newspapers, but how to save journalism.

• Image by Noodlepie on Flickr via Creative Commons

Written by Robin Brown

May 27th, 2009 at 10:00 pm