Thursday, 19 November 2009

The good news about news and the bad news about news continue to emerge. While media academic Dan Gillmor ponders a new Hawaii news startup backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, we hear that New York has lost nearly 60,000 communication jobs since 2000.

In that year, communications employment peaked. Then the Internet dragon started to bite. Elsewhere, we learn that newspaper ad spend dropped by 50 per cent from 2000 to 2009.

No wonder News Corp is upset. The Sydney Morning Herald reports today that "web users [of The Times of London] will have access to the newspaper's website as part of their general subscription fee or pay a fee to download as many stories as they like during a 24-hour period".

The paper's editor is quick to express reservations about the scheme, possibly in an effort to head off expected criticism.

''You have to be very careful with article-only economics. You will find yourself writing a lot more about Britney Spears and a lot less about Tamils in northern Sri Lanka,'' Mr Harding was quoted in The Guardian as telling an industry conference in England.

Fear of tablodisation is hardly something that News Corp watchers would expect to hear expressed, but we remember that The Times, after all, is a quality broadsheet. We'd expect the editor of such a vehicle to be sensitive to reader concerns.

News Corp is leading old media's sallies against the Internet's gradual erosion of profitability. The announcement represents hard evidence of what is in store. But fear among publishers of further erosion even of slim web advertising revenues means they are likely to tread gingerly.

The New York city comptroller's report about job losses also points to similar declines in other US cities.

On the positive side of the viability equation, the Hawaii-based Peer News has yet to announce concrete moves.

Peer News will operate in the leanest possible way compatible with doing solid journalism and community information. It will involve social media in a big way as well. (The Omidyar Network, the investing and charitable arm of Pierre and his wife, Pam, has been deep into socially valuable media for a long time. Count on them bringing what they've learned into Peer News.)

Plainly, the Hawaii launch is a test bed, in part. If it works, expect more local versions in other places.

Laid-off US journalists will greet such developments with sceptical interest, I'm sure.

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