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Tuesday, 15 September 2009

I've just read the word 'inventory' again in relation to declining advertising revenues in the online sphere. And again I'm forced to wonder what it means. Pundits use these technical words with such abandon and so freely, assuming their readers know what's going on. We're just curious, you see.

The word usually crops up next to 'increasing'. So what I'm assuming is that there is, for some reason, an increase in the number of news pages available for advertising. Ads are costed in terms of 'views' and 'click throughs'. Each time a page is viewed, the company that provides the page the ad is placed on gets paid. There may also be a payment if someone viewing the page clicks on the link contained in the ad.

It's confusing for me because the revenues deriving from media advertising has fallen drastically in the past year. The trend seems likely to continue. Advertising on paper is far more lucrative than online. Paper ads have fallen most. But the increase in online 'inventory' is having an impact.

So it makes me wonder what is the cause of this increase in 'inventory'. There seem to be more websites than before offering news. Certainly, in Australia, we have the emergence a couple of years ago of two broadsheet websites owned by Fairfax: The Brisbane Times and WA Today. But I'm still struggling to identify the other websites out there that are encroaching on the news space. Of course, it's not just in Australia that 'inventory' is increasing. It's a global phenomenon.

News companies are starting to panic and it has become routine to read on the websites of media critics that standards of journalism are declining. The two things go together. As revenues fall, the trope proceeds, there is less money to be spent paying for news. The result is more news manufactured by processing the press releases of PR operatives. The result? News that is less in the interests of the citizen, and more in the interests of the cashed-up corporation.

The panic started with Rupert Murdoch in the first week in August announcing that his newssites would start charging for access to stories. Since then, it has become a standard part of any discussion of online media. Then Google announced that it was developing a payment solution for news providers.

The language of online media is not transparent. Readers must come to grips with a new set of terms that have instant recognition for practitioners. The average Joe is frequently confused. That is why I chose to write this post. Because I'm trying to understand but I'm confused. There need to be more news stories published dealing with this issue that is so central to our ability to stay informed.

Which is why I was irritated to see a story on The Sydney Morning Herald's website today about a new magazine-style online reader launchd by Google called Fast Flip. I had already seen a mention on Twitter and had had a look. I was not impressed. But the syndicated story deserves space on the front page of the SMH while the stories I want to read do not. This, in essence, is lazy journalism. Instead of writing an in-depth story about the delcine in ad revenues among media providers, we get a PR-sourced syndicated story from global news house AFP.

Because I can get this information free on Twitter, this type of story would not warrant my money. And this is the problem with journalism today: too much cheap stuff devalues the brand and makes it less likely that dedicated news readers like me will support our regular mastheads. It's short-termism pure and simple.

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