A new broom for News Limited and an interesting couple of days

November 10, 2011

The substantive text in this piece was published on 10 November 2011 on The Conversation. It was my first commission from them and I appreciate their creative commons approach to republishing. Eager readers will also know that I was involved in the Australian government’s media inquiry this week.

A transcript of my comments is apparently going to be made available, I will post it to EM when I can. I read through it yesterday to proof-read it. I think I did OK; but others will judge that. Speaking of which…

I have been attacked by the Daily Telegraph  twice and The Australian (several times) for being a Trotskyist, which they “revealed” (ha ha)and some how managed to make sound like I am deranged. How come they never attack libertarians for their views…and they are deranged!

I also made my cherry-busting appearance on Andrew Bolt’s blog. I did seek a right-of-reply by posting comments online to both places; but as of 6.18pm today, they have not been taken out of moderation. Unlike the 50-odd comments calling for me to be burned as a witch or sacked from my job.This is an interesting observation about the free speech fundamentalists. They bleat and moan and scream and shout about their own “rights” and then vilify those who dare critique them. But they will not extend common courtesy to their opponents.

In fact, there is no right of reply at News Limited as this lovely little ‘thank you notice’ makes very clear.

Contrast this with the pumelling I received on an anonymous blog, Bunyipitude written by someone who I only know as ‘the professor’ – it’s what he calls her/himself – after coming after me with both barrels he/she at least had the decency to post my response. The comment stream hasn’t been very complimentary, but I can take it. My only concern is that most posters there hide behind anonymity. It makes the whole experience surreal. They know who I am and can comb the interwebs for what they see as damning evidence of my perfidity, but I don’t know who they are. Then they get up set when I suggest they might be trolls.

On the other side of the ledger, I am grateful to News with nipples for a spirited defence of sanity. I note too that the author, Kim Powell is happy to identify herself. In fact she seems quite nice and I’d like to meet her. She is doing a PhD on online newsrooms so we’d have stuff to talk about.

Anyway, all I can say to my haters and detractors is: “The Devil made me do it.”

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Forward to the past! Warning Murdoch and Thatcher ahead: turbulence…take a sick bag

October 23, 2010

Bloody Rupert Bloody Murdoch! When is this old warhorse of conservatism, neo-liberalism and freemarket gluttony going to die? Not soon enough.

The sprightly 80-year-old has given another speech this week to celebrate the life and logics of his old friend and ideological soul mate Margaret Thatcher. Thatcher herself is not so well, she was unable to attend Murdoch’s speech or her 85th birthday the previous week.

That didn’t stop Murdoch from praising Thatcher in fulsome terms for saving the world from socialism in the 1980s.

It was that appreciation of individual aptitude and ability that made her so intolerant of the strictures of socialism. How quickly too many people have forgotten that she has not only changed Britain, but, along with Ronald Reagan, changed the world, much, much for the better. How many millions of lives have been improved by the lifting of the Iron Curtain and the collapse of the Berlin Wall?

Wow! Did Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan really do that?

Of course in the company that Murdoch keeps these creation myths are the stuff of life. He doesn’t have to believe it himself, nor do his hosts Lord Saatchi and the Centre for Policy Studies in London.

Murdoch just has to say it and his loyal minions – those who populate is media empire – will propogate the line without question, as they always do:

  1. The speech covered in The Australian and WSJ complete with video of the old bastard
  2. Murdoch at the World Media (capitalists) Summit, Beijing October 2009 – published in-full by  the Wall Street Journal and The Australian.
  3. Speech to the pro-Israeli “Anti-defamation League” October 14 2010 – praised by an editorial in the New York Sun.
  4. 2007 speech announcing News Corporation would be “carbon neutral by 2010 – published in-full in The Australian. [As an aside I can’t help but wonder where the company is at with this. I suspect nowhere close and I bet Murdoch doesn’t give a shit.]
  5. August 2009 James Murdoch speech damning the BBC for daring to have an online presence – published in-full in The Telegraph.

But, back to the present. Murdoch also knows that he speaks on behalf of the ruling class and he never misses an opportunity to rally the bourgeois to the flag of radical free market doctrine. Of course, the current British government is the political spawn of Thatcherism and she is no doubt proud that David Cameron is launching a full-scale assault on the British working class in the name of austerity and future prosperity.

Music to Murdoch’s villianous ears as he told the assembled Lords, the great and the good this week:

All of us in this room are united by a determination that Britain take the steps necessary to ensure the nation’s free and prosperous future. That is the challenge for politicians of all pedigrees and all parties.

This old goat revels in the thought that there might be a fight ahead. He was a staunch ally of Margaret Thatcher when she led the last Tory assault on the lives and income of British workers. But, you’d have to think that this time, given what we’ve already seen in Greece, Spain, Italy and France, that there may be some resistance to the new Thatcherism of Cameron and his Tory goon squad.

Sorry that you have had to endure all that. As an antidote to all that Murdoch doublespeak, here are a few lines from John Pilger that give a little perspective, if not much hope:

Britain is said to be approaching its Berlusconi moment. That is to say, if Rupert Murdoch wins control of Sky, he will command half the television and newspaper market and threaten what is known as public service broadcasting. Although the alarm is ringing, it is unlikely that any government will stop him while his court is packed with politicians of all parties.  [On the shoulders of tyrants]

Against this background, an editorial from Socialist Worker

George Osborne’s spending cuts are a declaration of brutal class war. The Tories deliberately set out to hammer down the living standards of workers and the poor in order to fatten profits and enrich the bankers and the bosses. Commentators sometimes say that the Tories’ plans are “as harsh as Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s”.

They are not. They are far worse. They are much deeper than the vicious Conservatives attempted 30 years ago. That’s why there has to be a wave of serious resistance, or the Eton boys will trample on our class.

Murdoch himself never was an Eton boy, but he wanted to be. He is a brutal class warrior who knows which side he is on. He is also confident that his newspaper and other media assets will also back the Tories.

That is the real worry. And Murdoch is not only about setting the agenda through the signals his speech sends to editors and leader writers on his newspapers; like O’Brien in 1984, he knows the power of re-writing history in any battle for the present and the future:

[Margaret Thatcher] understood that a free society cannot thrive without its risk-takers and creative optimists and those willing to challenge conventional wisdom. And she recognized that the establishment can – and often should be – challenged. She also understood that the establishment wasn’t just the landed gentry, but institutions hungry for power at the expense of ordinary citizens.

What jibber-jabber. It was Thatcher’s friends – incuding Murdoch and Saatchi – who benefited from her wholesale assault on the institiutions of British life, starting with the unions, but extending to education, health and welfare. She was not mother Theresa, nor even Mary McKillop. Thatcher was a monster and Murdoch nurtured her.

And the liver-spotted megalomaniac is not shy about his own role in Thatcher’s success. He gloats about the battles of Wapping that all but destroyed the British media unions:

Many of the defining moments of my career have been in Britain. This includes fundamentally changing the newspaper industry in the 1980s – which has helped give us all the uniquely vigorous press we enjoy today.

Oh yes Rupert, that would be the vigorous press that you own that has recently being exposed as using illegal phone taps and spying to get stories. As Ian Taylor writes, there is a direct link between Wapping and the current lying scandal.

The full picture on News Group’s involvement in the hacking of mobile phones is still not clear, largely because the Metropolitan Police took the controversial decision not to inform the public figures whose phones had been targeted and the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to take News Group executives to court. Scotland Yard is likely to face questions about whether senior officers intervened to avoid alienating a powerful media group. [New Statesman]

But Murdoch doesn’t want to confront this issue. He bloviates on about the power of the free press and says he won’t tolerate “wrong-dooing”:

Our new world is one of modern mass communication, phone and text, without limit. Democracy will be from the bottom up, not from the top down. Even so, a free society requires an independent press: turbulent … enquiring … bustling … and free.
That’s why our journalism is hard-driving and questioning of authority. And so are our journalists. Often, I have cause to celebrate editorial endeavour. Occasionally, I have had cause for regret.

Let me be clear: We will vigorously pursue the truth – and we will not tolerate wrongdoing.

Bollocks to that Mr Murdoch///

[It’s a beautiful day. I’m going to the markets and then whale-watching in the gulf. Analysis of the rest of Murdoch’s speech can wait till I get back]


Dear Rupert, have you lost the plot? #paywalls

July 22, 2010

The Guardian is somewhat cheerily reporting this week that its arch-rival for British eyeballs, Murdoch’s The Times has suffered what appears to be a catastrophic drop in site traffic since ducking behind the paywall last month.

According to the Guardian‘s analysis (which you might discount on grounds of competitive one-upmanship)  traffic to the Times website has fallen as much as 90 per cent since the 15th of June this year.

The results also seem to confirm my analysis – soon to be published in News 2.0: Can journalism survive the Internet? – that the revenue streams from online subscriptions and daily paid visits are going to be a drop in the bucket compared to newspaper publishers’ overall income generating capacity:

There are approximately 150,000 Times print subscribers who get a free online registration, but if the estimated 15,000 daily online users who agreed to pay opt for the £2 a week deal, the paywall will generate £120,000 a month – £1.4m a year.

[Halliday, 20 July 2010]

That £1.4m a year is not going to cover the wages bill, let alone all the associated costs. It certainly is not a positive income stream.

I know that some commentators are suggesting that Rupert’s lost the plot – he is nearly 80 – and that the Internet has overtaken his usually sharp business brain because of its lightening speed; but I’m not so sure.

If you look at Murdoch’s strategy in New York, he has gone for a more traditional print-based newspaper war there; pitching the Wall Street Journal against the New York Times by upping its local coverage in a special section for the city that never sleeps.

To me this indicates a deeper game plan and a multiple strategy play that is yet to completely unfold. I’m not suggesting that Murdoch is going to be the ultimate winner here, but he is hedging his bets.

News International is also working on other aspects of the exclusivity of brand that the paywall might suggest. If you sign up and pay your 50 quid you get access to deals on executive travel, wine, books, etc. All aimed at the wealthier and older end of the scale. I’m shaking my head as I write this because not only is this approach nothing to do with the quality of the news on offer; but it also seems like a sinking lid strategy.

An older audience eventually gets smaller – it’s just the attrition of age and infirmity really. At the same time there’s nothing in the data to suggest that newspapers are generating interest in a younger audience – there is no long tail in this strategy.

The other clear observation is that no one has yet cracked the Holy Grail of the new business model for newspapers. It is obvious that in the short to medium term erecting a paywall means you take a hit; but it’s too soon to tell if there will be gains in the long run.

For readers, grazers and news surfers it means one less outlet, but in the crowded online market, the still-free alternatives are available to absorb the 90 per cent of Times‘ visitors who’ve given up on the once dominant masthead.

As one of my colleague remarked though, Times readers (at least those who have been loyal to the brand) tend to be conservative and may not like the more lefty tone of the Guardian or Independent.

It would be interesting to know where they’re going. Is it to The Sun, The Express or The Telegraph, or are they going off-shore for their news fix.

The next set of data on traffic, downloads and unique visitors to other news sites will be interesting, particularly if there’s a spike somewhere that might correlate with Rupert’s deserters.

I was on The Wire today discussing this issue.

Hirst_paywalls_the_wire_22_July


Murdoch’s UK paywall – set to change the world of online news

May 26, 2010

Rupert Murdoch could never be accused of stupidity. Rash behaviour at times, certainly, but he’s ruthlessly smart and totally focused on the bottom line.

In a few weeks time Murdoch’s most valuable (in terms of reputation and cache, if not profitability) media assets in the UK will disappear behind a paywall.

The Times and The Sunday Times will cost you real money from some time in June 2010. Already if you want to check-out the still free content you have to sign-up to go past the front page.

Next time you visit The Times, take a moment to register...have your credit card handy too.

Paywalls are controversial; supporters argue that without significant injection of subscriber funds there will be no more quality journalism, while detractors say that paywalls are anathema to the very ethos of the Internet.

One critic, Future magazine’s CEO Stevie Spring says she wishes Murdoch well, but remains unconvinced that the paywall experiment can work:

“Perishable news – like that News Corporation is talking about, for instance – is ubiquitous,” she said. “The basic rules of marketing say people will substitute and not pay for what they can get free. Good luck to them, I really hope it works but all the norms of marketing say it won’t. [However] it is an experiment they can afford to make.” [guardian.co.uk]

Roy Greenslade also puts the strategy under the financial spotlight, pointing out that subscriber numbers would have to jump exponentially to cover the costs of the newspapers’ £100 million editorial budget:

If 100,000 people agreed to pay £2 a week for access to the papers, it would result in annual revenue of £10m. It’s a sobering thought that the sum is but a tenth of the papers’ editorial budget and less than an eighth of their current joint annual losses. [Greenslade blog] Read the rest of this entry »


A global war on public service journalism

March 2, 2010

You know what:  we think it’s tough fending off the Wellydogs and Dribblejaws when it comes to National Radio. And there’s a certain element of truth in that.

But, take heart, we are not alone. If Ruper Murdoch’s News Corporation had a bigger presence in New Zealand, it could be a lot worse.

After a year or more of sniping, bitching, biting and barking, Uncle Rupe’s dogs of war have had a substantial victory in the UK.

The BBC – the paradigm example of public service broadcasting – has trimmed its own wings, rather than have them ripped off by a Tory government. According to a recent piece the The Guardian, the BBC has cut 600 million pounds from its expenditure and is reducing its online presence in response to whinging, money-grubbing complaints from commercial media (led by Murdoch) that the BBC was stifling its profit potential.

You know what, these free-market shysters should shove their own medicine where the sun-don’t-shine. They want to live an die by competition, yet when a service is popular and actually out competes them they bleat on about how it’s unfair that the BBC is so successful and has licence-fee money to spend.

The market is a failure and for the losers to whine and cry till they get their own way is pathetic.

Murdoch has now set his sights on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. News Limited columnist Mark Day is spear-heading Murdoch’s down under, low and dirty under the table kneeing in the groin attacks on the ABC.

In a piece just yesterday [1 March] Day makes a direct link between the BBC’s pre-emptive self-kneecapping and what he thinks should happen to the ABC.

It is time we had a full debate about the role of the ABC. It was established in a vastly different media landscape as a taxpayer-funded entity designed to, in part, fill in the market niches not served by the commercial sector. Now, thanks to pay-TV and the digital revolution, those niches are hotly contested. [Day 1 March 2010 redefine ABC]

The man has no shame when it comes to doing Murdoch’s bidding and some people still wonder why we fight so hard for public broadcasting. This is a totally self-serving argument that ignores the reality and history of the market and clearly serves Murdoch’s interests.

So far the ABC is standing firm and Managing Director Mark Day Scott [tx Rob] has responded to the shot across the bows.

But it seems the vigorous pursuit of commercial agendas by some of our media rivals is allowing the facts to be sidelined in pursuit of a good story.

There is a concerted attempt to portray the ABC’s role in the media as solely that of a niche provider- participating only in sections of the market not served by the commercial sector.

This “market failure only” portrayal ignores the history: Australia has been richly served by a dual system of public broadcasting working alongside commercial media. [Not for sale]

Don’t lose sight of the fact that this is a global trend. The media industry is in trouble and public service broadcasters are actually doing OK. We tend to trust them more; they’re reliable; they’re staffed by people who care about good journalism; and they don’t have greedy shareholders sucking the life out of them.

Now the greedy slugs and layabouts want a slice of our pie too.

We need to tell them to “piss off” in no uncertain terms.

This is the fight we are now joining in terms of Radio New Zealand.Murdoch may not have any direct influence here, apart from Sky TV, but there are plenty of stalking horses in the commercial media. Whanganui’s mayor is an obvious early starter.

I have been tracking the various speeches by shady members of the Murdoch clan. You can read all about it on the following links:

Barbarians at the Gate

The fall of Rome

Safe hands…not

Money-grubbing journalism

And Michael Laws’ contribution is straight from the Murdoch hymnsheet:

The state broadcaster robs taxpayers of $38 million a year to, essentially, provide two radio options. The ironically named National Programme (when its politics is ostensibly liberal Labour) and the leech-like Concert Programme.

At a time when your radio dial is replete with choice – from Radio Rhema to The Rock – public policy has decided that two types of listeners require direct subsidy. Actually, three – but that is another scandal.

The whistle is blown, the hounds are baying; they smell blood.

Get the bats ready.


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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Barbarians at the gates – Ultimo is smouldering?

October 15, 2009

Another very good analysis of Mark Scott’s Melbourne Uni speech which I covered yesterday. This from Trevor Cook at Crikey.com

Clueless in Ultimo

In other areas too we may come to see the world of the ‘empowered audience’ as deficient. Comment and opinion are everywhere on media sites these days, but there has been no similar expansion in facts, ideas and analysis, Scott’s much-heralded partnerships with the audience, like the barbarians attacking Rome, may be more suited to producing noise and colour than anything more enduring.

Fourth, it’s likely that the new media will be absorbed into the old media:

As the Western Roman Empire crumbled, the new Germanic rulers who conquered the provinces upheld many Roman laws and traditions. Many of the invading Germanic tribes were already Christianised, though most were followers of Arianism. They quickly converted to Catholicism, gaining more loyalty from the local Roman populations, as well as the recognition and support of the powerful Catholic Church. Although they initially continued to recognise indigenous tribal laws, they were more influenced by Roman Law and gradually incorporated it as well.

The ABC will still be the ABC with just a little more commentary from the audience. Not so much deliverance from the strictures of old media as an opportunity to join the slaves at the Mill.

The absorbtion is happening as we speak.

  • CNN’s iReport is IndyMedia on steroids, but without the awkward anarchist politics
  • TV on demand was YouTube
  • Twitter and Facebook are the cool new marketing tools that are supposed to help legacy media connect with YOOF

There’s a great comment thread on Scott’s speech on Larvatus Prodeo

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Media empires, the fall of Rome and the digital sublime

October 14, 2009

But now, anyone can instantly publish on the web. And as long as they have content people want to see and read they will reach millions. The extent of the revolution could not have been seen – the extent of the transformation.

Mark Scott, The Fall of Rome: Media after Empire, 14 October 2009

A nice thought isn’t it? Anyone can now reach an audience of millions if they have content that people want. It’s pleasant to imagine this world; a place free of the media barons, where simple souls like us can wield the once unassailable power of the moguls.

Too bad it’s just a digital myth at this point.

It is an aspect of what Vincent Mosco calls the “digital sublime”. a mythology that he says is sustained by the “collective belief that cyberspace was opening a new world by transcending what we once knew about time, space and economics” (2004: 3).

It is this mythology that leads many commentators to suggest that citizen journalism, or what I prefer to call “user-generated news-like content” is going to transcend and eventually replace the news industry of the 20th century.

But you know what, the media empire is an adaptive beast and while Rome wasn’t built in a day, it didn’t collapse overnight either.

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No Future! A pessimistic and money-grubbing view of journalism

October 13, 2009

The Philistine phase of the digital age is almost over. The aggregators and the plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid-for content, it will be the content creators, the people in this hall, who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs will triumph.

Rupert Murdoch, Beijing, October 2009

The writing is on the wall…but actually the content creators were not in Beijing with Rupert Murdoch; they’re scattered across the globe and Murdoch wants their content, he just doesn’t want to pay for it.

Can you imagine a future without journalism: a time in which journalists are replaced by “content directors” and amateurs?

As journalist and commentator Peter Kirwan put it in Wired magazine:

If traditional journalism is too expensive, and if user-generated content really is “good enough”, the way forward seems obvious.

For some news industry managers, this is a happy prospect: they can legitimately get rid of the expensive journalists, take your amateur copy for free and rake in the profits.

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Listener reviews – from the archive, for the archive

February 14, 2009

I can now link to the full text of my Listener book review “The man who owns the news”. I thought I’d take the opportunity to also draw loyal readers’ attention to my previous work in the magazine. If I’m lucky, there may be more “going forward”.

For your reading pleasure, may I present:

The man who owns the news

Inside Spin

The cult of the amateur