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Monday, 1 March 2010

Reading a feature article by Gabriel Sherman in New York magazine. The topic is how Rupert Murdoch has captured The Wall Street Journal and turned it rightwards in a febrile attempt to bring down The New York Times. Large, flat TV screens in the Journal's newsroom ahowing Fox News feed are not the only way this is happening.

Not surprisingly, warnings about the legacy of a respected newspaper once it had fallen into the hands of a right-wing capitalist with a long history of remaking newspapers in his own image, have come true. The problem with the Journal is that, because it sits behind a paywall, few people comment on it. For bloggers, The New York Times remains the paper of record.

We know all too well that the business of news is undergoing a historic transformation as both content and vehicles online proliferate. The bulk of revenues still come from printed ads, and falls here are not being offset by online ad sales.

Is it possible that a newspaper such as The Sydney Morning Herald could collapse? What would that mean for the media? What would that mean for us?

Would people in the community step in using blogs to write and research complex, in-depth stories that would "keep the bastards honest"? I'm not sure they wouldn't. The problem is, I'm not sure they would.

Which brings us to the low esteem in which journalists are currently held.

If newspapers died and there was no longer a living to be easily made from making news, would journalists gain in reputation what they lost in comfort? Is a purge required to kill off bad feeling in the community about reporters and their products?

And what about stories that are easy to write, and that people read, but that do not contribute anything to the public interest? Is the newspaper to blame for the story, or the consumer who pays to read it?

They may not pay, nowadays, but they do click. Attention, we're told, is the new scarce resource. What you click on today determines, to some extent, what you'll be given tomorrow.

And then, there's the idea that there are too many newspapers. Maybe Murdoch is right, and competition is the way to go. I spoke with Fairfax Digital CEO a little while ago and he told me that by setting up The Brisbane Times, his company had actually increased the total number of clicks commanded by the newspaper and its print rival, The Courier-Mail.

When we launched that site, a little over two years ago, the Courier Mail had about 300,000 unique browsers per month and they were basically the only game in town. Today between the two of us, we have two million. So the expansion of that market has been one of the great benefits of competition going in there. It’s helped the Courier-Mail too, frankly. They’ve lifted their game.

Of course, this doesn't take into account the fact that the number of clicks available has escalated arithmetically in two years, as well.

Nevertheless, it may be that conventional ways of understanding the media market no longer apply. The notion of committed citizen journalism is beginning to enter the minds of columnists. It may be that, as the news process migrates from the bureau to the suburbs, a lot of other things will enter the minds of individuals with nothing more than a blog account and an internet connection.

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