Friday, August 7, 2009

Rupert Murdoch's plan--wrong!

Rupert Murdoch has stuck his foot in his mouth by wishing to charge for online journalism. Murdoch is a communication mogul in print media [New York Post, San Antonio Express-News, Star, The Herald and Weekly Times Ltd., The Sun, The Times], television venues [Fox News Channel and Star TV] and other media sources. Print media revenue is down and newspapers are folding. More people gather their information from the Internet and Murdoch wants to start charging for access. He wishes to follow suit as many of those online journals and article repositories that charge a high-priced subscription or per article fee. Good luck Mr. Murdoch.

"Murdoch Mans Up"


Eric Etheridge

August 6th, 2009

The New York Times

Sure, everyone talks about charging for their online content. But does anybody ever do anything about it?

Rupert Murdoch, stand and deliver.

"We intend to charge for all our news Web sites," Murdoch announced yesterday.

"Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting," Mr Murdoch said.

"The increase we have seen in our Wall Street Journal subscription proves to me that the market is willing to pay for that quality."

About time, says Fred Wilson at his blog, A VC:

We can talk until we are blue in the face about whether people will pay for news or not. Talk is cheap. Actions are not. So I'm eager to see the experiments begin.

Wilson's not being sarcastic. He's more optimistic than most future positives about content sites finding a way to charge their readers, and even has his own vision a "freemium model" he thinks might work ("I like the model where the more frequent a visitor is, the more is required of them"). Still, he wonders if there are models that will work for every online node of Murdochworld.

It's not clear to me that newspapers like The Sun, The Times, and The Post will be able to make the WSJ's model work. And that's what interests me. What will News Corp do for those properties? And will it work?

Most others are straight-up dubious, though many hedge their skepticism by invoking Murdoch's mad skills, which are apparently best described as "savvy": "Don't ever count Rupe's media savvy out," says one. "It's never wise to challenge Rupert Murdoch's media savvy," says another.

Others are not so careful. At the Guardian, Jeff Jarvis says, not for the first time:

Newspapers have had 15 years since the launch of the internet browser to reimagine and rebuild themselves for the reality of the post-Gutenberg age. But they didn't. Now they are trying to reclaim old business models for a new media economy — a link economy, I call it, in which links give content value. Cut yourself off from links, behind pay walls, and you cut yourself off from the internet and its real value.

Also at the Guardan, Matt Wells, says the Murdoch's announcement is "a sign that the news industry is running out of options."

The old business model – cover price plus ad revenue – is bust: blown apart by the loss of classified to online networks and collapse of cover-price revenue due to falling sales. The hoped-for cash from online advertising has not materialised, at least not on the scale that would support the kind of journalism practised by the likes of Murdoch's papers, or for that matter the Guardian.

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick offers three reasons why he thinks Murdoch will fail.

1. [The] other sites [in Murdoch's network] don't have the qualities that make some people willing to pay for the WSJ. The quality isn't as good and the direct monetary benefit is not nearly as clear.

2. Most of those other sites have much clearer (free) competition.

3. Nowhere at all does Murdoch talk about actually giving people a reason to buy. All he's saying is that if they put up a paywall, people will pay. Sure, a few might, but it’s a small number, and doing so will stagnate any sort of growth, piss off advertisers, and allow competitors to take a giant leap forward — all in one shot.

Professional Murdoch chronicler Michael Wolff says the publisher's paywall plan will be an "uphill fight," and "probably even greater than it might appear" because both Murdoch and his company are so techno-backward.

Not only is he, among all media executives, the most technically disinclined (actually, totally illiterate), but his company, of all the big media enterprise, is the most technically backward and maladroit. He may now employ more reporters than anyone else in the world, but they use the oldest computers. He may have some of the world’s most trafficked news sites, but they are also the slowest and most inept. Technology, at News Corp., has always been regarded as one of those things, like fancy hotels, or long-form writing, that are not part of the company culture.

Murdoch's pronouncement is but one of several big-foot moves of late as the major media players choose sides in the great pay-versus-free grudge match. Late last month the Associated Press, a key member of the Pay Up! team, introduced a much-criticized and somewhat confusing (or deliberately misunderstood, depending on whom you read) scheme to "detect unlicensed use of its content." Murdoch hit the same note yesterday: "We will be asserting our copyright at every point."

On Tuesday, Chris Ahearn, president of Reuters Media, fired back at the A.P. and came out as a proud member of the Link Lovers: "I believe in the link economy."

The Internet isn't killing the news business any more than TV killed radio or radio killed the newspaper. Incumbent business leaders in news haven't been keeping up. . . .

Blaming the new leaders or aggregators for disrupting the business of the old leaders, or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies — they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works.

A better approach is to have a general agreement among community members to treat others' content, business and ideas with the same respect you would want them to treat yours.

If you are doing something that you would object to if others did it to you — stop. If you don't want search engines linking to you, insert code to ban them.

I believe in the link economy. Please feel free to link to our stories — it adds value to all producers of content. I believe you should play fair and encourage your readers to read-around to what others are producing if you use it and find it interesting.

The Link Lovers made another key acquisition last week, when NPR introduced its revamped site, with a stated goal of emphasizing "written reporting over audio reports" — as in free written reporting.

"I am a staunch believer that people will not in large numbers pay for news content online," says NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller.

It's almost like there's mass delusion going on in the industry — They're saying we really really need it, that we didn't put up a pay wall 15 years ago, so let’s do it now. In other words, they think that wanting it so badly will automatically actually change the behavior of the audience. The world doesn't work that way. Frankly, if all the news organizations locked pinkies, and said we're all going to put up a big fat pay wall, you know what, more traffic for us. News is a commodity; I'm sorry to say.

If all the current and future members of team Pay Up! had a choice about who should be the head pinky-locker, it would probably be Murdoch, a man of maximalist ambition and success.

As Michael Wolff observes, "Owning the world's biggest news business is exactly what he set out to do, and … that is pretty much what he achieved."

There is, simply, no one who produces more news than Rupert. Quantity is what he does. On this basis and with this approach, he is now losing his shirt. But he cannot conceive of the world in any other sense than one in which his news outlets are not the most emphatic and powerful and lucrative.

Who else but Murdoch should lead the Pay Ups! in the great and glorious final battle against the Linkers? Charge!

Journalism errors do occur Mr. Murdoch as pointed out by the Los Angeles Times regarding the passing of Walter Cronkite. If one had to pay for that obituary would not they have been cheated?

Murdoch said "Quality journalism is not cheap...." Consider the following for the communication media does and will make errors.

"Cronkite blunder a revealing look inside New York Times"

Alessandra Stanley's many mistakes point to a double standard when it comes to high-profile writers. More of the Times' high level of self scrutiny is a step in the right direction.


James Rainey

August 5th, 2009

Los Angeles Times

I have to admit it would be fun to join the rollicking beat-down of the New York Times and Alessandra Stanley that has followed the chief television critic's egregiously error-ridden tribute to Walter Cronkite.

Wasn't the public fascinated, after all, to learn that Stanley and the nation's Paper of Record managed eight mistakes in an almost 1,200-word tribute to Uncle Walter? Didn't many in the news game enjoy a moment of schadenfreude, seeing such a tart critic of shoddy TV journalism with her own flank exposed?

But sweet payback has more to do with emotion than reason.

In fact, the botched Cronkite appreciation and the brutally frank corrective actions (including last Sunday's scathing deconstruction by the paper's public editor) expose both a chronic weakness and a persistent strength inside the New York Times, America's most important journalistic institution.

The Times has a bad habit, revealed by the Stanley critique and in recent years by the Jayson Blair and Judith Miller incidents, of letting a few well-connected journalists run amok. At the same time, the Times has shown the strength to subject itself to a level of self scrutiny that some (in a Web Age when corrections of grievous errors come labeled as "updates") would not even pretend.

The New York Times, in short, needs to enforce its high standards more uniformly, regardless of whose byline appears at the top of the story. But its TV critic's latest stumble down Error Alley is hardly evidence, as some would like to suggest, that journalism's top brand has been hopelessly compromised.

I come to this mixed verdict, in part, after a conversation with the newspaper's former public editor, Byron Calame, who told me that "a lot of New York Times editors don't feel, in their gut, they have the right to challenge veteran and star reporters and columnists the way they need to."

But Calame, now retired after a couple of years as the Times' internal watchdog, added: "I still think it's an amazing newspaper. They do a lot of things right. So I don't think this is some sort of huge hole they can't pull out of."

The Cronkite appraisal felt like "a disaster, the equivalent of a car crash," as one editor put it, because of the prominence of the subject and because the newspaper had plenty of time to prepare for the ailing newsman's death.

Yet in her piece, Stanley, who previously worked as a foreign correspondent and covered the White House, misstated the dates of the first moon landing and the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. She had Cronkite covering D-day from the beaches of Normandy, instead of high overhead in a B-17.

Calame's successor and the paper's current public editor, Clark Hoyt, attributed the mistake-filled Cronkite appraisal to "a television critic with a history of errors [who] wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant [but] were not."

He suggested that tougher scrutiny by editors and better communication could have prevented the errors. No doubt.

But I think Hoyt paid too little attention to Stanley's special standing at the paper.

In fact, several people who work at the Times told me they are troubled that Stanley is a star whose continued accuracy problems seem to provoke no apparent discipline.

Her failings became serious enough a few years ago that the paper assigned the TV critic her own personal copy editor -- a fact noted in Hoyt's assessment.

Calame wrote in 2005 about what he said was a cut-and-dried inaccuracy, in which Stanley accused Fox News personality Geraldo Rivera of grandstanding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The TV critic wrote that Rivera "nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way," so he could help an older woman into a wheelchair. But Calame reviewed the video and saw no nudging.

Rather than agree to a correction, however, Times Editor Bill Keller defended Stanley for "writing as a critic, with the license that title brings." In other words, Rivera was showboating, so he had nudged his way into the story figuratively, if not literally.

Both of the Times' former public editors -- Daniel Okrent and Calame -- told me their critiques produced sharp rebukes from Stanley.

Okrent -- who once criticized the critic for tone, not accuracy -- remembers her as "extremely defensive and hostile," while Calame said she attacked him as a nitpicker.

Those reactions and Keller's somewhat tortured defense of his TV critic tell me that Stanley was one of the entitled ones. The Times is the Times in part because writers such as Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman -- and to some extent others like Stanley -- think big and write with brio.

They enhance their names, and the paper's, by staking out novel ground.

But ultimately, the Times remains the nation's premier news outlet because it has a high regard for facts. That is why even the paper's harshest critics -- in their blog postings and cable TV reports -- spin off facts they first learned in the Times.

"One thing that sets a serious newspaper apart from most other institutions in our society is that we own up to our mistakes with corrections, editor's notes and other accountability devices, including the public editor's column," Keller said to me in an e-mail Tuesday.

Hoyt's column suggests that the Cronkite errors will lead to Stanley again getting "special editing attention." But as Times-watcher Craig Silverman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review, it would serve the critic and the paper better to correct the problem closer to its root by getting Stanley in "a training program that helps her stop making simple factual errors at such an alarming rate."

Stanley acknowledged the mistakes in the Cronkite piece as "my fault," also telling Hoyt: "There are no excuses." She did not respond to an e-mail requesting further comment.

Keller declined to say whether his lead TV critic might face corrective measures. He rejected the notion that the Times' big names get to play by different standards.

"Stars or purported stars are obliged to get their facts right," the Times editor said. "Editors are obliged to edit everyone without fear or favor. Period."

Since it's not so clear that lesson has become ingrained deeply enough with everyone in the organization, it makes sense that the paper keeps an independent public editor on the payroll.

I hope the Times decides to keep the position when it comes up for review next year.

The dirty laundry hanging out the window this time was particularly unsightly. But it also suggests the owners have some determination to keep the house clean.

Here is the New York Times obituary...

Here is the New York Times obituary...

Deceased--Walter Cronkite

No comments: