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Saturday, 8 August 2009

Are technology news sections becoming the new headline news? Is traditional inter-agency competition squeezing out useful stories when the subject of the story is the news itself? I think the answer is ‘yes’ on both counts.

Technology touches almost every aspect of our lives, apart from the courts, which seem to view it with as much relish as a sixteenth century burgher contemplated the plague. Court websites are notoriously slow, clunky and information-free.

But elsewhere in the world, IT plays an ever-more central, and growing role.

So when News Ltd launched a story at about 11am the day before yesterday about Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that his company’s newspapers would start charging for access to stories by the end of this fiscal year it was no surprise that the story did not feature on the pages of rival The Sydney Morning Herald. Even APN-owned Sunshine Coast Daily, which launched a similar story less than two hours later, was better furnished with this important news.

Yesterday, SMH tech writers caught the story when it appeared that (surprise, surprise) commenters on the story on News.com’s website had seen fit to pan the concept of a commercial block on what most people, nowadays, take for granted should be free.

Fairfax reporters had a ball.

While noting gleefully that over 140 people had commented, reporters added a lot of background detail that I included on my post on this topic on the day the story broke.

While other major publishers are considering charging a subscription or micro-payments for their online content, New Corp has become the most vocal proponent of a move that Murdoch began telegraphing earlier this year.

At the same time, a number of his lieutenants have gone on the offensive, attacking bloggers and aggregators, such as Google, for profiting off the work of others.

In April, Wall Street Journal editor Robert Thomson attacked aggregators – including Google – calling them “parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet” because they profited off the back of free online content.

In June, Dow Jones chief executive Les Hinton described Google as a "digital vampire" that was "sucking the blood" out of the newspaper business.

Last month, News Ltd chief executive John Hartigan berated bloggers for leeching off mainstream news reports and criticised them for their lack of original reporting and professional standards.

Well good for Fairfax for being interesting and informative. It’s just a pity that they didn’t announce the new plans on the first day it became news, when it was still news.

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