Over hump day with a bikie war then scalping the Premier seals the deal

March 7, 2013

So far I would have to say that in terms of news bang-for-buck the Herald-Sun is doing tabloid better than The Age does compact. It’s early days I know, but in Melbourne, at least, the News Limited paper seems to be ahead in the stand-out front page stakes..

Though, having said that, it seems that The Age has picked up some new readers this week. At my newsagent’s pick-ups of The Age have more than doubled and are now equal to, or a bit better than the Herald-Sun. That could be an anomaly; I  live in an area where there is a likely majority of Age-types given the number of private schools, Merc, Audis and Beemers that litter the neighbourhood.

Today’s editions (Thursday, 7 March ) might even the score for the Fairfax Media title in the stand-out competiton; but the full page picture of Ted Baillieu on the Hun might attract the mouth-breathers who like big pictures more than big words.

Herald Sun Ted Quits The Age

At least today The Age has learned that headlines should be short and sweet, but four words is still twice as many as two. Yesterday (Wednesday) it was seven words in a two-deck headline for The Age and four words in three-decks for the Herald Sun; the Hun also uses a much bigger typeface.

The issue here is that The Age is trying very hard not to look like a tabloid; it wants to be a smaller broadsheet and so it’s front pages are text-heavy.

This is OK as long as Age readers are happy to have the key elements of one or two stories related on page one. The Herald Sun is sticking to its formula of fear and emotion being the main drivers of sales based on front page scans.

Wednesday’s Herald Sun front page was a classic in that genre it had heart-string plucking sick baby Linkin Fauser and warring bikies raising “Police fear public could be caught in cross fire”.

Herald_Sun_6_3_2013 The_Age_6_3_2013

At least The Age was back in the game yesterday with its own Baillieu stuff up story detailing secret fund raisers and the ongoing fall-out from the secret tapes affair that ensnared the Premier and his deputy in a rolling maul that was getting closer to the business end of the pitch.

But The Age was always playing catch-up on the secret recordings story. It seems likely that the Herald Sun had been sitting on this little box of dynamite for a while and deliberately played it out as a spoiler to the launch of The Age as a comp-loid on Monday of this week.

That is certainly how a smart newspaper executive would play it, both to boost sales and to let the opposition know that life in the tabl-act trenches would be bloody and tough.

Today it just got bloodier and tougher because it is the first time this week that we can do a full comparison on coverage of the same story. It was an even playing surface for both titles; they heard about Baillieu’s resignation at the same time (about 7.25pm last night [Wednesday 6 March] and so had about six hours to get the story ready for this morning’s papers.

The Herald Sun is rightly claiming Baillieu’s scalp and today reveals how political editor James Campbell dropped the paper’s bomb on the Liberal party late on Sunday afternoon.

It was the Hun’s story; though as I mentioned, The Age did well on Wednesday to get its own exclusive angle of the rorting and alleged corrupt shenanigans at the core of Baillieu’s incompetency.

The Hun wins today’s battle because as the front page strapline says: “SECRET TAPES CLAIM PREMIER”.

Having said, that the depth of coverage was about the same in both mastheads and apart from the Hun’s own boasting about Sunday’s Spring street squirmfest neither paper had anything substantially new to add.

Friday’s papers will be telling. Does the Herald Sun have more dirt to dish?

If so it would be a hands down winner this week.

So for now, the Herald Sun gets to count coup, but The Age could have the last laugh.

If my newsagent is right and the new compact is walking out the door this week, then The Age may win the circulation battle.

The hope in the Fairfax Media offices along Spencer street is that novelty-factor sales turn into subscriptions.

There’s a long way to go yet before that score can be counted.


Compacts v Tabloids: The only game in town is the back page

March 5, 2013

As of yesterday [Monday 4 March 2013] we are in a weird scenario: Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian is the only broadsheet daily newspaper left in Australia. Think about this for a minute.

Yes, shocking, I know.

All of the other Australian dailies are tabloids. Or, if you prefer the Fairfax Media spin, most of the others are tabloids and two of them are ‘compacts.

The compacts are the former broadsheets: The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age (published in Melbourne).

The last broadsheet to tabloid conversion was when Brisbane’s Courier-Mail made the switch in 2005. Today the Courier-Mail is indistinguishable from its News Limited stablemates in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide. The Courier-Mail embraced the whole essence of becoming a tabloid. It has adopted the big double-deck headline technique with a large photo-splash and it has eagerly turned itself to tabloid news values as well.

But this is something that Fairfax Media says it won’t do; at least not yet. While it is clearly competing head-to-head with News Limited in Sydney and Melbourne, Fairfax honchos have said repeatedly–and whenever asked about it this week– that The Age and the SMH will not become tabloids, driven by celebrity, gossip and the sort of low-level moral-panic inducing campaigning journalism that characterises all the Murdoch mastheads.

Advertiser 5 March Courier Mail 5 March

Daily Tele 5 March

Read the rest of this entry »


Judging a book by its cover: Did The Age get it right on day one?

March 4, 2013

The first thing I noticed this morning at my newsagent in Melbourne’s leafy eastern suburbs is that the pile of Herald-Suns is twice as high as the pile of The Age. So the first comparison is easy.

Even in this relatively affluent suburb, the newsagent expects to sell more Herald-Suns than copies of The Age.

The second comparison is also easy and perhaps explains the first: the Herald-Sun is $1.20 and The Age is $2.00. Price-conscious newspaper buyers will probably prefer the cheaper product.

The canny Herald-Sun buyer also gets more bang for their buck-twenty. The Murdoch ‘tabloid’ has 80 pages and the Fairfax Media ‘compact’ has 72, plus a 16 page insert that is numbered differently.

But how do you tell a tabloid from a compact? It’s not that easy because technically they are the same size: 30X40 centimetres.

Perhaps it’s in the layout and use of colour on the front page.

Herald Sun4 March The Age

The Age has retained its signature royal blue, but the masthead is superimposed reverse in white on blue. The Herald-Sun uses a verdant green and a superimpose/reverse white, but it’s masthead block is deeper coming 14 centimetres down the page. The Age masthead is a shallow nine centimetres.

The Herald-Sun also uses its masthead to promote a “Superstar Footy DVD” give-away and incorporates action pics of two AFL stars who I don’t recognize, but who I’m sure would be very familiar to Aussie Rules fans.

As you would expect the Herald-Sun has a brighter more ‘tabloid’ front page with a bold headline in four centimeter solid capital letters: “SECRET TAPES BOMBSHELL”        . Over the top of that is a white-on-red banner also in heavy caps: “POLICE CRISIS ROCKS GOVERNMENT”. Just below the headline is a series of three ‘pointers’ also in block caps: “KEY STAFFER PAID $22,500”; “JOB HELP AT ODDS WITH PREMIER”; “BAILLIEU ADVISTER SLAMS DEJPUTY PREMIER”.

The kicker is that readers are invited to “Now listen to the recordings heraldsun.com.au”

The copy itself, across five columns is about 350 words and the story is continued across four pages (4-7) inside.

At the bottom of the page there’s three ‘skybox’ promos for contents inside the paper. This is a great tabloid front page and if you were buying the paper on its shelf-appeal, you would probably go for The Herald-Sun.

By contrast The Age seems dull, if worthy. Read the rest of this entry »


Rinehart’s Fairfax gamble…a long play game

February 2, 2012

Published 2 Feb 2012 in The National Times

There’s been some excitement on the bourse and in media boardrooms this week over Gina Rinehart’s move on Fairfax Media. It seems the West Australian iron ore magnate is angling for a seat on the Fairfax board to add to her $165 million berth at the Ten Network.

Rinehart is keen to take her original 4 per cent stake of Fairfax to about 15 per cent. She bought the first shares for $100 million and is likely to spend close to $200 million on this raid.

But what are the real implications in this venture?

There’s been speculation that the Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, might move to block Rinehart’s attempted takeover of Fairfax – if indeed that’s what it is. The grounds for such a move would perhaps be that she’s not a fit and proper person to own media assets because of her alleged political bias. Rinehart is a vocal opponent of the Labor government and its resource rent tax scheme. The timing of Rinehart’s grab has created talk about the blocking move by Canberra. She’s made the play as the final report of the Convergence Review on media and communications is due to be handed down, and in the knowledge that the current convoluted and unworkable media ownership rules will be changing.

Blocking any takeover is open to the regulators under provisions of the Trade Practices Act dealing with matters of public interest. A strong case would have to be made that Rinehart’s control would lessen media competition. There is no “media” law that prevents her actions now and even less under the proposed new regulator.

But, for me, the timing is coincidental. Rinehart is buying Fairfax shares under the existing rules, which limit audience share across platforms and across markets. She is therefore entitled to increase her stake in Fairfax – while holding significant shares in Ten – as long as she does not control the companies and her combined media assets do not constitute a breach of the “three-and-two” rule (where companies are allowed to own up to two media outlets — TV, radio and newspaper — in a single area).

There’s also the issue of the government’s legislative and political timetables to consider. Filling in the substantial missing detail in the Convergence Review’s recommendations is going to take months, if not years. The timeline could stretch well beyond the next election cycle. We will be playing by the old rules for a while yet.

Rinehart’s decision to move now can be explained without recourse to conspiracy theories or invoking the “evil witch of the West” stereotype. She is cashed up; the Fairfax share price is ridiculously low (down from about $5 five years ago to less than 90 cents today) and by taking a chunk of stock she gains leverage over the company at a time when it needs to transition from being primarily about ink on paper to being truly converged and multimedia.

Rinehart may well be thinking long-term and looking for business synergies, cost-savings and profit-taking by joining up her investments in Ten and Fairfax. She would effectively then be able to either harmonise these business units to create a going concern, or sell-off strategic assets once the new ownership rules and content regulations are in place.

Whatever her motives, Gina Rinehart still has to play by the rules. She cannot easily move to positions of control of both Ten and Fairfax Media under the current cross-media ownership regulations without a fight. Under the mooted new rules she would also have to pass the public interest test.

Having said that, I don’t think it is useful to demonise Rinehart and suggest that she has an ulterior personal and political motivation for taking on Fairfax. She has strong and very conservative political views and she has been spending some of her inherited mining wealth on anti-government campaigns in recent months, but I am not sure that Gina Rinehart is another Kerry Packer or Rupert Murdoch waiting in the wings.

Rinehart is incredibly rich and she has seen an opportunity to buy a media asset while it is at or close to the bottom of its share price cycle.

What we should be concerned about is that this share market play makes a mockery of the idea that the news media and the press are somehow bastions of free speech and freedom of expression.

According to her own family, Rinehart is a tough woman and as hard as the ore her father dug out of the Pilbara to create her vast fortune.

She will have to be resolute if she is to take on Fairfax journalists who have fiercely defended their independence in the face of perceived corporate interference. Readers of Fairfax publications may also not take too kindly to Rinehart’s editorial line.

Her solution might be, as some have suggested, to wrestle control of the major Fairfax dailies and leave the rump to be sorted by the board. This scenario rests on Rinehart’s motivation being influence rather than profit.

Rinehart’s multimillion-dollar raid on the Fairfax share cupboard just goes to show that the adage “freedom of the press belongs to those who can afford to buy one”, still applies in convergent Australia.

Rinehart’s estimated wealth is staggering – she’s rumoured to be one of the richest people on the planet – so she can easily afford to buy Fairfax and whatever she damn well wants, but there are many hurdles to jump before she can claim the throne as Australia’s princess of print.


Sorry, Mr Hywood – you missed the point: It’s not about quality it’s about money

November 16, 2011

Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood delivered the A.N. Smith lecture at Melbourne University’s Centre for Advanced Journalism last night (Tuesday 15 November).

I’ve never quite understood what ‘advanced’ journalism is supposed to be. Maybe I’ll look it up one day.

According to the mission statement, the CAJ is attempting to improve the quality of journalism through ‘knowledge transfer’

The Centre for Advanced Journalism will contribute to the University’s goal of knowledge transfer through interaction with the public and with journalists and media companies.

The four key questions posed for research at the CAJ are also admirable, if a little unremarkable:

  • How will new media technologies impact on the future of journalism?
  • What is the role of public interest journalism in a liberal democracy?
  • What is the nature of the relationship between government and the media and how does this relationship serve the public interest?
  • Is “the public interest” a concept that is understood by the media and the general public?

I have no problem with that at all and I wish the centre’s new director Margaret Simons all the best. Improving journalism is something that I’m passionate about too; so in that spirit, let’s engage with Greg Hywood’s comments.

I’m not sure of the title Greg gave to his talk, on the National Times site the headline is ‘Rumours of our demise exagerated’ and on the AFR site (behind a Fairfax paywall) the headline is ‘Internet the reason journalism’s future is bright’. So, presumably that’s what the talk was about.

I’ve read the edited transcript of Mr Hywood’s speech on the National Times website and I’d just like to address a few issues.

Strong and trusted journalism has never been more important.

Yes, that’s absolutely right, but it always has been. In any day and age there needs to be a robust public debate informed by accurate and honest information. In a mass society when we can’t all gather in the forum for the daily senate meeting the public sphere is highly mediated. We get our information – on which we base our opinions – from the mass media. A reliable and trustworthy news service is absolutely essential to that process.

I believe the future of journalism has never looked stronger.

This statement needs to be addressed in several ways because Hywood’s qualification is important:

And this is because of the internet, not despite it.

We’ll come to that in a minute, but first a question to Mr Hywood: How can the future of journalism look ‘stronger’ to you when your own company Fairfax Media is busy cutting jobs and the number of working journalists in major news titles is falling around the globe?

This was the situation at Fairfax mastheads in May this year:

The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald are preparing for a wave of industrial action after new Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood wielded the axe this morning, sacking over 100 production staff to achieve annual cost savings of $15 million under the cover of an announcement spruiking “quality journalism”.

[Fairfax slashes: 'quality journalism' with fewer staff]

Perhaps Mr Hywood had this in mind when he said in his speech last night:

What has changed is the workload. Forget filing once a day. In this crowded, chaotic environment you have to provide the best, independent news and analysis all the time.

Yeah, that’s right: the old bosses’ mantra of “doing more with less.” Simple physics and quantum mechanics tell us that it it almost impossible to do more with less.

Read the rest of this entry »


News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet? Reviews so far

February 3, 2011

Some reviews of News 2.0.
For the record

This is an excellent book, a must-read for every journalism student, tutor, journalist, media manager and academic media-watcher.

Newzwire Jim Tucker

Hirst is undoubtedly the right person to tackle the job, having previously co-authored Journalism Ethics and Communications and New Media and here all that expertise is used to illuminate the precarious state of journalism in the digital age.

Artshub Matt Millikan

Hirst suggests one of the main reasons people turn online for their news is a mistrust of mainstream media by the public. Overall, the book was an interesting read.

The Fringe Magazine Scott Wilson

And the first…Alan Knight, professor of journalism at UTS, Sydney

Mainstream  journalism has failed the public interest, reckons author, Martin Hirst.  Citizen journalism is too feeble to provide a viable alternative. The future looks grim.

Fortunately,  Dr Hirst believes that pessimism of the intellect should be coupled with optimism of the will.

 

 

 


Can journalism survive the Internet?

June 19, 2010

It was great to be on stage at LATE a couple of weeks ago. The panel was talking about the future of journalism and I was there to give the ‘pointy-head’ view. Brent Impey, former boss at Mediaworks, represented the ‘hard-headed’ business perspective; Eric Kealy, head of TVNZ 6 & 7 was the ‘one-foot-in-both-camps’ semi-pubic broadcasting voice and Colin Peacock, MediaWatch presenter, was, as always, the voice of reason and ‘Mr Nice Guy’.

It was a load of fun and the feedback seemed to be it was one of the liveliest panels in a while and a bit of “biff” between the panelists was seen as a good thing. The audience certainly got involved; plenty of laughter and cheers in among the serious squirrel stuff.

The video is now online at the LATE site and on YouTube, so you can watch it without leaving the comfy frontroom of Ethical lMartini

There was a twitterwall too, mostly good comments and one or two snarks.

The possibility that TVNZ might be put up for sale by a second-term National government highlights some of the contradictions in the ‘hard head’ and ‘semi-public viewpoints about broadcasting policy and political economy.

A couple of weeks ago in the Weekend Herald John Drinnan’s column raises the idea of a TVNZ float and current CEO Rick Ellis is quoted giving a personal view that it shouldn’t be sold to foreigners.

Ellis says that the Kiwi-ness of the network might be lost and also its independent voice in news and current affairs; but in fact that is not the real issue.

Foreign or domestic commercial ownership of TVNZ will have an effect. It will no longer be even ‘semi-public’ broadcasting and perhaps the TVNZ 6 & 7 channels will become shell templates into which anything discarded as commercially to hard or not profitable will be dumped.

Eric Keally talked about this model @LATE, suggesting that such a split could work with 6 & 7 becoming the home of public service broadcasting. It seems that the plan being talked about at the highest levels is creating this kind of hybrid public service broadcaster that would include Radio New Zealand, TVNZ 6 & 7 and Heartland channels and (if the real hard-heads get their way) Maori TV.

The only thing stopping the MBS being shoved in kicking and screaming is that it would be a political hard sell to the Maori constituency. But, there’s generally derision and contempt for Maori TV in some circles. Plenty of the good and powerful think it’s a disgrace that the MBS got the Rugby World Cup and there’s a feeling that MTV is totally unwatched.

Patronisingly some folk say it’s good at doing “language” stuff, but that it should leave real broadcasting to the big boys. The same people are also scornful of the MBS ever being commercially viable and they take delight in pointing out that it only survives because of cosy deals with government departments.

You see, even while paying lip service to the ideals of public broadcasting the hard heads and the semi-publics actually want the same thing. To get their hands on more of the broadcasting pie.

As I mentioned @LATE and what got me most passionate on the evening was the whole “dumbing down” debate. The hard heads and sem-publics don’t really get this. They believe in market-choice and “let the audience decide”. They also fetishise the idea of “choice”, but it is the producers who are in charge.

The people in control of production determine the content; not the audience. And while there is a great deal of choice, particularly in the digital age of endless streaming of content via the Web what does it really do for us?

It’s a downside of the “Daily Me” that fragmentation of audiences destroys our collective conversation and shatters the public sphere into millions of sphericules that don’t intersect and hardly ever interact with each other.

A speech that wasn’t given

LATE is not the sort of function where one gives a speech, but I wrote one anyway; mainly to get my thoughts clear. It’s a summary of the arguments in News 2.0, so I thought I’s share it here.

News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet?

LATE @ the museum – 3 June 2010

A/Prof Martin Hirst, Journalism Curriculum Leader,
School of Communication Studies, AUT University

I’d like to thank the Auckland War Memorial Museum for the opportunity to speak at LATE on the topic of journalism’s future.

I have been to several of these sessions and I think they are an important and fun addition to the intellectual and cultural life of this great city and of New Zealand more generally.

To be invited here as a contributor, rather than an audience member, is indeed an honour.

Can I start by explaining the title of my forthcoming book, which is in two parts.

Consuming News 2.0

The first part of the title “News 2.0” refers to the emerging paradigm for news consumption and production.

In terms of consumption the key factor in the new paradigm is mobility. We are no longer locked into to only consuming news at certain times of the day.

Typically, people of my generation (I guess I’m a late baby boomer) would consume news in fairly static and sedentary ways.

It might start with reading a morning newspaper – at home or in transit to our place of work – or with listening to a radio broadcast over breakfast, or in the car.

And then we would go into a kind of news-free zone for most of our working day. We might hear some breaking news from colleagues or friends who had heard it on the radio, but by and large, our next dose of news would be the afternoon newspaper (now most certainly the dinosaurs of the analogue age) or we would sit and watch a broadcast TV bulletin sometime in the early evening – typically the lead in to what we still call, but with less conviction perhaps, “prime time”.

For most of the past 20 years we might also – if we were serious news junkies –watch a late evening bulletin before retiring for the night.

We no longer do most of our news consuming in that way anymore. Even us baby boomers have adapted – we’ve become digital immigrants – and we consume our news through wireless connections to our laptops and tablets, on our PCs at all hours during the working day and through our mobile phones.

In fact, it hardly seems fair or adequate anymore to call these indispensible hand-held communicators “phones”.

They are so much more. A phone is also camera for still and video images; they are personal jukeboxes and they are our permanent connection to the world of news and information.

News seems to follow us around like a bad smell. It invades our pores and the membranes of our brains and it seems we can hardly ever turn it off – even if we want to.

But there’s another problem too. The very definition of news – its taken-for-grantedness and the venerated values that turn information into news – is changing too.

With mobility comes mountains of extra choice and an endless supply of news-like information that can be infinitely tailored, redesigned and reconfigured to suit our personal, individual tastes and prejudices.

We have moved from the age of broadcasting to the age of narrowcasting.

This has been described as “The Daily Me”, our ability to customise the news we see through various online readers and aggregators, RSS feeds and by “following” our favourite news sources through social media applications like Twitter or an social networking sites such as Facebook.

Social media has changed the look and feel of news forever.

From consumption to production

I will return to that theme in a moment, but first let’s look at News 2.0 from a production point of view.

And here we can introduce another important thesis from my book. There is a two-fold crisis in the news industry today. It is a situation that many senior news figures, including Arthur Sulzberger Jr of the famous newspaper family, who calls the crisis a “perfect storm”.

The first element of the crisis is about the profitability of media capital. All the major players – from Rupert Murdoch to Mediaworks’ owners Ironbridge – are very worried about declining circulations, ratings, advertising revenues and therefore a shrinking bottom line.

The almost universal response – typical of crisis management in the capitalist economy – has been downsizing. Newsrooms have shrunk, story budgets have collapsed and there are no resources for expensive overseas bureaux and highly-paid senior and investigative reporters.

As a consequence – and a likely cause of the second element of the crisis – audiences are losing trust. We no longer believe in the factual and “objective” values of the traditional news media. Journalists are among the least respected of the professions – beaten into last place in most surveys only by hookers and hucksters.

In addition we are also suffering from an overload of public relations and marketing that is repackaged into a news-like text, but clearly has a commercial, rather than an informational purpose. Most recent studies from around the globe suggest that more than half of what we see in the form of news has its origins in PR and spin.

Journalists are out-numbered by 2 or 3 to 1 in most major news markets and this imbalance is likely to get a lot worse before – if at all – it begins to improve again.

So, a very clear result of this has been the emergence of alternative forms, sources and types of news.

While we have ever greater choice and – until the great paywall comes down – unprecedented access to news sources, we are in fact consuming less of what we might call “hardcore” public interest news and more of the softer, celebrity-focused, opinion-laden and frankly at times highly unreliable forms of news-like information that is generated from the blogosphere, the twittersphere and from the broadcast yourself social media such as YouTube.

Collectively this avalanche of social media is known as Web 2.0 and the first part of my title is a play on that; which brings me to the second part of my book title:

Can journalism survive the Internet?

Why is this an issue?

There’s one very clear and simple explanation for this – the Internet and the World Wide Web (and pedants tell me they are different things) have fundamentally altered the process of news consumption and news production.

There’s obviously a lot more behind this unsurprising observation and I’ve hinted at some of it.

In more pointy-headed terms I would argue that the whole political economy of the news media has changed.

In my book, which I hope is for a general and well-informed readership, I talk about this using the metaphor of the “singularity”.

The singularity is scientifically-defined as that point in time where machine intelligence outstrips the thinking capacity of the human brain.

But I prefer to talk about it in the language of Charles Stross, one of my favourite sci-fi authors whose book, The Singularity Sky tells the story of a hyper-evolved species of machine-dwelling sentient beings who cause a full-scale revolution on an earth-like planet that they decide to visit for a spot of fun.

At one point in the book one of the sentients’ camp-followers makes a telling remark to one of the human leaders of the planetary revolt:

“Talk you of tradition in the middle of a singularity?”

The planet’s ruling elite collapses under the sheer weight of the gift economy established by the singularity’s arrival and, I would argue, we can use this metaphor to examine the news industry’s responses to Web 2.0 – the explosion of social media and social networking across the Internet.

Can journalism survive the perfect storm of declining profits, the suspicion of audiences and the threat “from below” – the millions and billions of bytes of user-generated news-like content that is being published, broadcast, narrowcast, blogged, tweeted, uploaded and downloaded across the planet.

My answer is a qualified “Yes”.

It’s “yes” because I believe that the desire for information, for us to be informed and to want “news” of our neighbours, friends and enemies is fundamental to the human condition.

We have needed and found ways to circulate news-like information from the very beginnings of human social life. I don’t see that changing any time soon.

But I qualify my belief in the future of journalism because, frankly, we just don’t know what journalism will really look like in the future.

There are currently a number of proposals, talking points and even experiments in new forms of journalistic endeavour, but nobody is certain that one or another of these models will actually work, or will be a salvation for the news industry.

I think the news industry is resilient and the signs are that the whole cultural expectation that news on the Web will be free is being worried away and slowly wound back by paywalls – Murdoch is about to close off free access to his news properties and the New York Times will do so from next year.

In New Zealand there is a paywall around the Business Review’s premiere content and we may well see Fairfax and APN follow suit.

Paywalls come with their own particular sets of problems – not the least of which is our resistance to paying and the smaller returns that accrue in online media from both subscriptions and advertising.

Most experts agree that there is a cost to the company when a paywall is imposed and that any gain in subscription revenue could be eaten up by a loss in advertising as the viewing audience is restricted.

But news companies are also finding ways to monetize the clickstream around user-generated news-like content too.

CNN’s iReport is one example of a major legacy media giant adopting some of the principles of “D-I-Y” media culture. User-generated content becomes the property of CNN and any revenue stays with the company.

In political economy terms this is free labour that can be monetized and add to the bottom line for CNN and others who adopt this model – and most large media companies operate this way.

Finally, journalism will survive the Internet but with substantial changes. There is likely to be more UGNC, not less and more audience interaction, not less and more amateur journalism, more blogging, more tweeting and more use of social media to circulate news-like content.

Whether or not this is a good thing in terms of the public interest and the public sphere is yet to be seen.


Is the magazine industry falling over too?

May 6, 2010

This week I was invited to give a presentation to the staff of NZ Doctor magazine and a couple of its sister publications. I was asked to reflect on the state of the magazine industry and the future of news and journalism.

The slideshow is available for download, but today a story about the potential sale or closure of Newsweek brings the issue into stark relief.

According to news reports Newsweek is losing money fast and if a buyer is not found soon, it may close, but perhaps it’s not the only title to be facing an uncertain future.

I recently got an email from the publisher Conde Nast offering me heavily discounted subscriptions to most of its magazine titles. Unfortunately, it seems that because I live in New Zealand I can’t take advantage of this bargain.

Wired for $US 10 and The New Yorker for $40, a delight for magazine readers. But, why would Conde Nast do this? I can only think it’s because the magazines are not doing well and they want to shore up circulation figures to shill the advertisers.

News stand sales of magazines are also falling, around 7 per cent last year in Australia and by even more in the United States.

1. Cosmopolitan – 1,616,908 (down 7.8 percent)

2. People – 1,319,350 (down 12.77 percent)

3. Woman’s World – 1,175,550 (down 8.31 percent)

4. First – 1,066,167 (down 9.29 percent)

5. Us Weekly – 843,479 (down 2.98 percent)

6. In Touch Weekly – 745,123 (down 17.67 percent)

7. O, the Oprah Magazine – 693,054 (down 5.58 percent)

8. Family Circle – 673,286 (down 22.55 percent)

9. In Style – 625,589 (down 20.13 percent)

10. Star – 601,115 (down 14.29 percent)

Industry types are saying that the slump in advertising revenues that dogged news and magazine publishers in 2009 might now be over and that sales are trending up. Figures seem to be still reasonable with the top four US titles all still selling over 1 million copies, but the percentage drops are huge for some.

Perhaps there’s not many real magazine buffs out there anymore, but I for one will not be curling up in bed with an iPad anytime soon. I like to read a magazine and to do the puzzles with a pencil.


Honesty again – whodathunkit! What do we do about the news?

February 21, 2010

There must be something in the water, or maybe there’s an optometrist involved. I’m not sure what the reason is but another nationally syndicated columnist has let fly at her reporter colleagues  this weekend.

The fun started when Tracey Barnett claimed most columnists were short-sighted egoists in the NZ Herald yesterday. Tracey’s lament was that columnists can’t see past the daily rush of ‘new’ and, when it comes to analysis, they tend to be pack-like in approach.

We get so sucked into the vortex of the endlessly hungry daily news machine, we begin to think every story is about the fight, not the resolution. Suddenly our job becomes declaring momentary winners and losers.

[All commentary, no analysis, all of the time, NZH 20 Feb 2010]

Now Rosemary McLeod in the Sunday Star Times is having a go at the shallow pool of news-celebrity culture and the fact that precious column inches are wasted on fatuous stories about the sex lives of newsreaders and their ilk.

[4pm Sunday update]: Sometimes it does take me most of the the day to get through the papers and so I’ve only recently come across Deborah Coddington’s column ‘Live in the public eye? Get used to being gawked atRead the rest of this entry »


Michael Wolff on Rupert Murdoch

October 18, 2009

I always enjoy Michael Wolff in Vanity Fair; he has great access to important media people and Rupert Murdoch is no exception.

Wolff’s biography of Murdoch is also pretty good. In this piece he brings up-to-date the current Murdoch view about paywalls, etc and News Corp’s war with public broadcasters.
Michael Wolff on Rupert Murdoch Business: vanityfair.com

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