Sunday 9 August 2009

Murdoch to charge for online news content!

Earlier in the week I was reading about how media mogul Rupert Murdoch is making plans to charge people for accessing his newspapers online web content. This would mean that in future if you wanted to read the Sun, The News of the World or The Times online you would need to subscribe and pay a fee to do so. If this was to come into practice, and from the reports that I’ve heard the Sunday Times may be used as a pilot project, this would be a pretty revolutionary development in print journalism.

Murdoch’s media empire News Corporation has suffered huge financial loses in the last year, mainly as a result of the lose of advertising revenue which has affected so many other media groups. Apparently the Sunday Times made a financial loss last year after previously posting a profit, and although The Sun and The News of the World recorded profits they were still not as great as what might be expected. Clearly Rupert Murdoch has decided that something has to change. He was quoted as saying:

“Quality journalism is not cheap”

Now I know that many people will say that quality journalism doesn’t exist in newspapers like The Sun and The News of the World and reading a number of comments from people on the Guardian’s website on this story the general consensus was that Murdoch had ‘lost the plot’ (my own words) if he thought people would seriously consider paying for journalism output produced by those tabloid papers. But personally I think they’re missing the point to be honest.

Admittedly one of the great challenges that such action would create is that other people would quite happily lift this content and publish it for free on other websites.

To combat such action Murdoch as already pointed out that serious litigation maybe needed and in his own words:

"We'll be asserting our copyright at every point."

Even though I read the Guardian on a regular basis, I don’t have a typical Guardian reader attitude in seeing Rupert Murdoch as a ‘Prince of Darkness’ type figure of the media world. I think he’s hit the nail on the head and that we cannot expect newspapers and journalists to produce copy completely for free on websites.

Secondly and I say this as someone who still buys newspapers, why should those of us who still buy newspapers subsidise those people who read news content exclusively on the net?

I don’t think Murdoch’s proposals would affect me too much personally, as the only newspaper website that I read on a daily basis is that of the Guardian.

I occasionally read the Times, but rarely any other newspaper. If the situation arose where the Guardian decided to charge for their online content then I do think I would be happy to subscribe.

With declining newspaper and advertising revenues, newspapers and media organisations will need to look at other alternatives to make a profit, and as far as I can see charging people to read online content is a logical choice.

I read some comments from people on the Guardian who argued that Murdoch’s idea wouldn’t work because people would naturally go to free sites in order to find the news they wanted. This could be online news websites or blogs.

I’ve touched upon this before in previous blogs I’ve written. Just because something is free doesn’t make it any good! Obviously I’m writing this in my own blog which is free, but my blog is my own personal opinions and thoughts. I don’t claim to be reporting hard facts on current news events.

What I don’t understand with some people, is that they think because they can get something for free they automatically believe that it is somehow better then something you have to pay for? On what basis? Is there always real quality in a free product?

Some people fail to understand how much money and resources is actually required in producing news content. Murdoch highlighted the Daily Telegraph’s recent scoops on MP expenses as an example of a newspaper producing an on going news story which the public were quite willing to pay money for to read about. I agree with this as The Telegraph’s sales increased as a result of the story.

A couple of months ago I went to an event organised by the Front Line Club , a members club which champions independent journalism. They held a talk about MP expenses which was chaired by the media analyst Roy Greenslade, who writes in the Guardian and Evening Standard.

One of the guests was Andrew Pierce from the Daily Telegraph who spoke at great length about how the Telegraph managed to obtain the computer disc that contained all the info about MP’s expense claims.

What was really interesting was hearing about the time and resources that was needed by the newspaper and the journalists to actually decipher all the information they had and then produce a coherent story.

This was real investigative journalism; from what Pierce described, it sounded like they had a team of journalists accompanied by lawyers working in an underground bunker trawling through hundreds of expense claims.

If anything it sounded quite boring and tedious, but my point is they needed a certain amount of money, time and resources to produce this story.

The story didn't just appear from nowhere, it had to be produced!

This is why I don’t have a problem with what Murdoch is trying to do. It will be interesting to see whether other newspapers will follow his lead or continue to allow their online content to be accessed for free.

What appeals to me most about what Murdoch is trying to do, is that it demonstrates that journalism is a product that should be valued highly and that means that it should be paid for, something I certainly don’t have a problem with.

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