Ideology of news: Murdoch speaks

December 8, 2009

Rupert Murdoch, Darth Vader of the news business – political heretic and “vulgarian” –  has suddenly found favor with his peers.  They are rather desperately hoping he can save them from their most implacable enemy:  themselves.

Murdoch certainly understands that the news are dying from self-inflicted wounds.  Journalists write to inflate their self-esteem.  Or as he puts it, “editors are producing news for themselves – instead of news that is relevant to their customers.”  He accepts that the golden age of newspapers exploited “quasimonopolies” on information, which the Web has blown apart.  “The old business model based on advertisement,” he writes, “is dead.”

But Murdoch still thinks he can sell news online.  He expects journalists to change their ways, and produce information the public wants and trusts:

“Quality content is not free. In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.”

Then content aggregators like Google must be browbeaten into paying content producers.

Good luck with that.  Murdoch is a smart, smart man, and he has diagnosed quite accurately the affliction killing the news.  But others have tried to charge for online content – the NYT did it with TimesSelect – and found their product relegated to a lonely corner of the information universe.  The more dollars you ask for your content, the fewer eyeballs it attracts.

In any case, relatively few people are interested in political news.  Once you unbundle the latter from other content, it sinks near the bottom of the information marketplace.  That’s just a fact of life, which was concealed by the newspaper’s bizarre format.  I doubt there are enough wonks in the world to generate profits for a political version of iTunes.  Even if Murdoch’s journalists write relevant, appealing political news, the happy few who might consume such stuff know they can get something similar elsewhere – for free.

(HT: RealClearPolitics)