Monday, July 9, 2012

News Values

The gnashing of teeth in print journalism about how to save the industry is understandable. But like a shipwrecked crew on a melting iceberg, the victims might spend less time wishing for a change in the weather and more time building a boat out of there.


Crikey recently canvassed opinions from a range of parties about what they would do if they ran Fairfax. Predictably, the contributions were based on the existing structure. The funniest, from stockbroker Roger Colman, recommended kicking out all the lefties. Presumably this would be to cater to that great untapped market of consumers starved of right-wing opinion.

Over at Planet Murdoch, meanwhile, the message from the caged Dobermans - McCrann and Bolt - was that Gina and her brilliant business acumen was too good for Fairfax. Shareholders should be more afraid of her selling rather than buying, said Andrew. But perhaps he wants to ask Ten Network's shareholders first. Since Gina bought her 10% stake in November 2010 and stuck Bolt on the box, Ten's shares have delivered a negative total return of 60%, compared with 4% for the index.


But perhaps that's unfair on Gina, because the media is a difficult business to run these days. On that score, Andrew and Terry might like to ask their own boss, Rupert. Fairfax journalists do that sort of thing, by the way - ask tough questions of their own proprietors. In contrast, days after sticking the boot into hapless Fairfax, the fearless and independent McCrann assessed News Corp's own desperate restructuring as "Two Firms, One Vision". (Always such an independent journalist our Terry.)

McCrann's rationalisation for the vision of his Dear Leader ("focus, clarity and freedom" was how he dared to describe it) was the share price reaction to the restructuring. On the day of the announcement that News was separating into separate entertainment and publishing businesses, News Corp shares rose by 10% in New York. What Terry conveniently overlooked was that rather than being a mass cheer at the unlocking of the value of the newspapers, this rally was the market's expression of relief at the prospect of  the whole stinking print mess being set apart from the profitable pay television and entertainment assets.  Operating profit from the publishing business fell 32% in three years to 2011, according to Bloomberg. Classified ads and sales are in structural decline.

So this is a global problem with mainstream media.  Not even the evil genius Rupert can get out of this one. And the belief in some quarters that some head-kicking, bottom-line-obsessed mining entrepreneur (whose expertise is digging stuff out of the ground) might be able to turn around a media company to profit while maintaining the qualities of editorial independence and integrity is just a wet dream for boozy Liberal Party-voting stockbrokers without an ounce of  media sense.

The fact is journalists traditionally place far too much faith in business people when it comes to their own business. Indeed, what they haven't grasped yet is the answer to this problem is in their own hands. With the business model busted and the cost of distribution now zero, what is to stop a few dozen smart and respected journalists getting together with a venture capitalist, a technology entrepreneur and building their own "multi-platform distribution mechanism", as they say at Fairfax these days?

While the Global Mail has been a troubled venture, this doesn't mean the idea of a journalist-run quality digital outlet doesn't have merit. Showing the way, The Economist recently reported that its digital-only paid subscriptions rose by 50 per cent in the past year. Now The Economist is an established global brand and a specialist publication, but I would argue there is scope in Australia for a serious economic and political news outlet that breaks news and provides useful analysis.

Think about the core value of news organisations for a moment. The core value is Trust. If people  don't trust you, they won't read you or listen to you. Until now, journalism has been subsidised by large media companies where the barriers to entry for new players were substantial. Those companies are now moving the deckchairs around as they seek to become lean, mean digital-only enterprises.

 My view is it's too late. These are print companies with print cultures and always will be. The fact is you don't need Fairfax or News Corp to become digitally successful. Journalists need to become more entrepreneurial, just as musicians have had to do this past decade as they cut themselves adrift from dis-intermediated record companies. It may not be evident to the public, but amid all the noise over media, what we're currently seeing is a process of price discovery in the market as people seek to put a monetary value on good journalism.

The irony is that the more the established players trash their brands by chasing the 24/7 cycle (the original Hamster Wheel), cutting staff, outsourcing sub-editing, moving relentlessly downmarket and using partisanship as a marketing opportunity, the greater premium on news and analysis you can trust - that isn't the mouthpiece of some Capitalist Poobah and their paid lackeys.

If our leading journalists really wanted to be courageous, they'd start the pitch now.

12 comments:

  1. My heart bleeds for the decrepit state of the news industry. Really it does...

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    1. Yeah, fine. Get back in your box, pay no attention to media, and remain ignorant then.

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  2. Some years ago the English comedian Alexei Sayle once asked "why did music hall die?" before answering "music hall died, because it was crap."

    Newspapers are dying in this country because, by and large, they're crap.

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  3. Our media could try something radical and report news instead of endless prattle.

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  4. I have stopped buying newspapers as they are so predictable in their "analysis" of politics and issues confronting Australia. The so called journalists mouth an ideological line irrespective of fact, or just regurgitate crap from politicians as if was factually based and of interest. Further there is very little hard questioning of politicians. I get the impression that journalists are just as shallow as the politicians and would have difficulty constructing a coherent position on most issues so that they could do the hard questioning. No wonder there is very little trust in the media, they have effectively joined in with the political class and are participants and not observers.

    As soon as some web delivery services are available with quality journalists, with pay/view options, the print media will be dead.

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  5. Exactly Phil

    look at the lack of imagination in a lot of what Fairfax covers, its the culture that needs a shakeup as much as the delivery method. people wont read boring stuff on the web or in the paper, or on ipad for that matter

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  6. Because we are able to check so called news. We are discovering the crap being dished up to consumers is overpriced and often misleading. More importantly the process of public trust journalism make it possible for people to challenge those once big media who have been misleading us on behalf of those who pay for advertising. One enduring memory is the term feeding the chooks used to identify the process where the premier of Queensland dished up something for waiting reporters to take and peddle to readers. Edward James

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    1. Oh and what exactly are your better, less biased, less 'crap' sources of news, Mr James? Do tell.

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  7. I used to buy a Sydney Morning Herald to read on the train to and from work and at lunch time. However, mobile devices like iPhones and access to the internet at work and at home have made this redundant. When commuting, there are lots of alternatives to staring out the window. Added to this is the fact that printed 'News' is 12 - 24 hours old and much of it is unexamined 'chook food', why would you buy a newspaper now? And of course, especially in News Limited publications, much of it is partisan, supporting the commercial or political agenda of proprietors. And of course much of it is trivial, not only in the tabloids. If I wanted a regular fix of right-wing propaganda or needed to know what the Kardashians are up to, I wouldn't need to buy a newspaper.

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  8. I have stopped reading the crap put out by the MSM "quality" journos and have instead turned towards academia. I much prefer to read articles written by those that know a bit about their subject matter see "The Conversation" https://theconversation.edu.au/
    There is still a section for the political sock puppets to blather their propaganda but beware guys, your stupid comments will be shot down by experts in the field.

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    1. Oh, dear. Nothing is more narrow and partisan than academia.

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  9. Re journos getting together, KGB and the Spectators are an obvious Aussie example. However they took their 30 pieces of silver from Rupert. I personally find the comments section of decent websites like Crikey produces as much viable analysis as the articles themselves, and this is one reason to value them over the MSM.

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