The new Sun on Sunday has come under a lot of flack. It has been criticised for the lack of investigative news reporting its deceased sibling, the News of the World, featured (albeit what the NOTW investigated and how they did this was open to question). People are saying it is more like a magazine than a newspaper. I think this criticism is misplaced. The Sun on Sunday is an illustration of the future of newspapers: i.e. the separation of news from the distribution mechanism that is newsprint (in line with fundamental trend inherent in the social media revolution, which is the separation of content from its means of distribution).
All newspapers face a fundamental and painful choice: they either stick with the news (content) which means they will have to separate themselves from the distribution mechanism of newsprint, or else they stick with printed paper and change the content to that which is better adapted to work in this distribution medium. And magazine type content is better adapted to print than is news. The problem for the Sunday Sun is that magazines are better adapted to be …err… magazines, than tabloid newsprint.
About a year ago Clay Shirky wrote a brilliant article called Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, which is probably the best analysis I have read of the problems facing newspapers. (This is something I have also written about in terms of the separation of journalists from journalism and the need to understand newspapers as a form of distribution rather than a form of content).
The Big Question is – what is it going to take for the reality, as outlined by Shirky, to replace the fantasy (masking as business models) being advanced by most in the newspaper world. Probably it is going to take the demise of a player previously regarded as undemisable. Could it be the Le Monde will be just such a player? This analysis just published by Frédéric Filloux suggests it could be.
Today The Times launched its new online edition, which it will effectively be closing again late June when it starts to ask people to pay for it. Times editor, James Harding, was interviewed this morning on the Today programme desperately trying to justify how initiatives such as this represented the salvation of journalism and reporting.
Laying aside the nature of the journalism and reporting that such an initiative is expected to preserve and also the arrogance in many of the assertions that Harding made that essentially implied that news just can’t happen unless some bloke with a notebook is there to ‘make sense of it’, there is a huge flaw in the thinking that upon which the whole paid-for content approach is based. This flaw is the unquestioned assumption that journalism and journalist are one and the same. Or to put it another way, the only way that journalism can be achieved is through the institutional structures of one-to-many mass media. Continue reading
Rupert Murdoch’s last great battle, getting people to pay for on-line content, has been much discussed. The general view is that he will not win. As I have previously said, the issue is not that people won’t pay for content, it is that they won’t pay for distribution, when distribution is free. Here is some more evidence that he is heading for a fall.
Speaking recently to the National Press Club at the George Washington University he asserted that people will pay for content when they “have nowhere else to go” i.e. when everyone else is also charging for content. However, this is never going to happen: not because other content providers won’t collude with Murdoch and also erect paywalls around their content, but because people already have somewhere else to go and this place is not a newspaper or other form of institutionalised news provider. This is why newspapers are dying, not because newspapers’ content is available free in the digital space. The institution of a newspaper is being replaced by the process of information sharing using the tools of social media.
The people who have nowhere else to go are newspaper proprietors – not consumers.
I was recently looking for information on the decline of newspapers in the US when a Google search turned up a piece by Russell Baker from the 16 August 2007 edition of the New York Review of Books.
A quick scan revealed that it didn’t contain the information I was looking for but a comment caught my eye. The author made the following assertion. “How the internet might replace the newspaper as a source of information is never explained by those who assure you it will”. Continue reading