Friday, August 7, 2009

The madness of Murdoch

There was a lot of feverish conversation around the watering holes of KL last night over the latest table thumping declaration by News Corp's Rupert Murdoch that enough was enough of the free content ride - online news will cost damn it!

Actually there was less fevered conversation and more me just ear bashing anyone who would listen, in the end I got told to shut my pie hole and go and write it out of my system, so here I am.

If you took the time to read through News Corp's results yesterday you can kind of see why Murdoch's in an angry sweat again - an overall US$200m loss is just part of the story. There was a US$400m plus write down on myspace and a 60% decline in profits in the newspaper division.

It might seem simple to just ask people to pay for online content in much the same way as they pay for a newspaper, but ah, and I hate to be the one to say this, people aren't paying for newspapers anymore.

Murdoch just doesn't seem to get the post newspaper world - and anyone who doesn't agree that that's where we are now, is kindly invited to follow this link, but only if you agree first to come back afterwards. It's a time line of closures of newspapers in the US - check out the carnage around December 2008 to say, July 2009 it's not pretty.

Yep print newspapers are at a pivotal point in their history - it's called death.

But hang on before you sit me in the corner, with the other old media hating, facebook friend whoring, twitter follower harvesting, myspace single launching, Bing V Google war declaring, "OMFG", "WTF", "ROFL", "pwned", "epic photoshop fail" saying, Rick rolling brats consider this, and I hate to come on all "when I was a boy" but, when I was a boy I worked my way up from a copy kid in a newsroom to editing a daily newspaper.

Actually that's not strictly true I actually did some God awful degree, regularly touted as one of Australia's best journalism degrees (note I don't hate the degree or the institution just that people think it takes three years in University classrooms to learn how to write for a living) then landed a fourth year cadet's job on a daily newspaper.

It took approximately six months to unlearn everything I learned at University and then relearn how to become a halfway decent journo (and approximately two weeks to learn how to drink properly - which as everyone knows is the only way you can become a halfway decent journalist).

Why do I tell you the sordid tale of my journalistic apprenticeship? Because it's important that you understand I'm not a new age blog journalist who has a vested interest in the downfall of traditional print media.

I was crazy passionate about newspapers, but hey I got over it.

They were fun, a lot of fun and there is a powerful attraction to being the first to know everything, which is how newspapers used to be. You would impatiently wait for the newspaper every morning to see what happened and to hear how it unfolded. That just doesn't happen anymore and it's what's killing newspapers. The newspaper now, if you do read one, always seems like the last one to know.

Newspapers just aren't fast enough any more which brings us to online. A lot of newspapers do a pretty reasonable job online, but they are still largely written by traditional journalists in a pretty traditional way.

I have to admit I consume a lot of news content everyday and to be honest a reasonable amount of it is Murdoch owned content, but I'd be a sadly uninformed individual if I relied solely on newspapers. In fact a lot of the stories particularly in the online, social media, media, world affairs, entertainment and "shaggy dog" space has usually been broken in the non-traditional media sites and then is picked up - usually about a week later (poor old newspapers). Consider how the Iran elections were reported - most media outlets were reporting using twitter sources.

If all of the Murdoch content disappeared off the face of the planet tomorrow - and lets face it when he starts charging for it, it might as well have disappeared, I guarantee I will be no less informed and neither will you and I certainly won't be paying for it.

Murdoch runs a pretty old fashioned media operation - ie massive and expensive with an army of journalists all sitting between the expensive walls he rents. This makes it a low margin, moving fast towards a no margin, game particularly when you consider bloggers sit in cheap space (usually a bedroom at their Mum's house) and have no overheads and aggregation news sites harness the wisdom of mobs who cost the site nothing. Agreed the content has to come from somewhere but the links to articles on sites like Digg and Reddit are rarely to places like the New York Times or the Asia Wall Street Journal.

Murdoch like many of the other big old fashioned news organisations are trying to re-establish news journalism as a premium product, when the market has already decided it's a commodity and a not particularly difficult to produce commodity.

As someone who has seen the best of both worlds, slogging it out in an old fashioned newsroom, chasing ambulances and competing for the front page, as well as the new news collective where everyone contributes and news is told by the minute not the day, both are exciting, but one's time has past and the other's has arrived.

Swing the gate open, get smarter about ad serving to free content and become part of the search for better ways to monetise content, rather than protecting an outdated model that consumers don't want anymore.

Alas poor newspapers we knew them well, but hey, whatever.


Anonymous said...

It's crazy. The whole news model seems to be broken for almost everything except TV.

News brands need to start thinking about ways to deliver value to both readers and advertisers, rather than spending so much time trying to tweak an old model that was built for an entirely different context.

More thoughts here:

TK said...

Agreed, there is a lot of energy expended in bemoaning the end of old media and Murdoch isn't the only one. If we accept consumers have long been patronised by media owners and now they are saying how they want to be communicated to and the balls in their court then we can move on and let a truly interesting age of media and communications begin. It's only scarey if you're immovable - or your ship's too big to steer.

Anonymous said...

That's what I find so astounding. There's plenty of discussion out there that demonstrates that people are tired with the old approaches; if news brands took time to listen, they'd quickly get some good ideas on what works and what doesn't. And yet, they seem to be wasting that opportunity, and are even going backwards instead of evolving. I could hardly believe it when I read the article discussed here:

Roberta said...

Hey TK, great post - thought it was funny and ballsy.

But I have to defend - as part of the Murdoch stable - that there are some things worth paying for. And by 'some' I am referring to the Pulitzer-prize-winning content that the Dow Jones writers bring to the table. Sure, bloggers are fast and number many, and UGC is unparalled in terms of speed and (mostly) unbiased updates. However, when it comes to the world of business, financial analysis and access to world leaders, how many bloggers can pick up the phone to 'chat' with the likes of Obama or Mike Smith of ANZ?
Anyway, current investment into other platforms like digital (duh), mobile and e-books like kindle mean that the old man ain't so stodgy after all. He knows that 'alas' newspapers are 'whatever' - that's why he's investing in the future while sculpting the present.
We can comment as we like, but are we individually investing in how to make media profitable through subscriptions the same way that Murdoch actually is? I think not, unless you are secretly a billionaire too...

TK said...

Hi Roberta thanks for the well thought out comment and no, we are building a small modest media property certainly not massively influential super empire. As I see it the walled garden works for the Journal because traders, investors and others who require high value, specialised business and markets intelligence are very used to paying for the content they use and have always had to do that historically. I just question if this will work for much more generalist stuff that was traditionally printed in the tabloids and the middle of the road broadsheets and business properties. I can certainly understand the complexities of trying to convert a traditional media business into a new (new) media one and make the fundamentals work on profitability. We are all struggling with it but I think the first step is letting go of the past and facing the future and see it as exciting as well as challenging. BTW the majority of our revenues still come from print! But the change is coming. Thanks again for reading and participating. TK

Stefan Pertz said...

The fast death of print media - accelerated by the print media.

We buy and use media for our clients. Sometimes, print media is still the best channel for the clients we are working for. Here are a few examples of how print media ensures that they die faster:

1) Please don't bring us new advertisers - Sometimes we are doing the budgeting for our clients. We need to know the media rates (obvious). Many times we ask for a media kit and don't even get an answer. Thanks, but we are too busy dying here, so we cannot handle your request to send us an advertiser

2) Thanks for making us look incompetent - Then there are times when we do get an answer. We recommend and book the adspace. The ad we place may feature an event. The promise is that the ad is out before the event. Or maybe not. Looks stupid to promote an event that is over and done.

3) Better don't promise if you can't keep it - Ok, Editorial support SHOULD not be linked to ad sales. However, IF editorial support is promised, make sure it is going to be pubnlished.

If we were operating like this, I am sure we would soon be faced with a sudden death too...

Valerio Veo said...

Good post - and I agree with pretty much all of it:

I remain surprised that newspaper journalists are so defensive about their expertise vs the so-called lack of expertise of the blogosphere.

As an ABC, then SBS journo I'm apparently 'trained' to know my hacks from my commentators and I use easily use a variety of blogs for my expert comment.

More in my blog entry - but using online to prop up bloated newsrooms by simply charging for news content WILL fail.

It can work... but not with the current proposed model...

TK said...

These are interesting points - and I agree the journos as well as the media owners are holding back, and paranoid about, the future. As for media owners who can't even send out a media kit or at least a rate card when requested by an agency, that's just dopey and they don't deserve to survive.