Has Murdoch won his battle against Google?

 It’s been decided: News can’t go on being free – and Google is going to help!

 For many newspapers and their journalists Google is seen as a parasite that is slowly sucking them dry. Although Google’s only 10 years old it’s the third most trusted news brand yet it produces none of its own content. By aggregating news and giving it away for free they are making money from news that was not researched, written, or paid for by them.  In a monumental move, following pressure from the likes of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, Google today has agreed to limit the amount of free news it will allow people to access.

 But after over a decade of getting online news for free are people really prepared to pay for any of it? The research completed by paidContent.co.uk certainly doesn’t seem to suggest they will. Robert Andrews UK editor of paidContent (which is owned by Guardian News and Media) said that many media organisations were looking into other ways of inciting people to pay. He explained:

“The music industry is suffering in a similar way. But through gigs they can generate money by giving their fans an experience they can’t get anywhere else. This is what many newspapers are looking to do.”

Some ideas that are floating about include early access to gig tickets for online subscribers or the chance to sit in on the newspaper’s editorial meetings. Yet these “special offers” seem unlikely to attract people in their masses. Instead a more fundamental change to newspapers in terms of their business model and content is needed if they are to regain their readership.

Pay walls for example have been a success for some newspapers; the Financial Times has 1.6 million online readers and 128,000 of these pay a subscription. Pay walls work if your audience is fairly wealthy and are prepared to pay for quality content that they can’t get anywhere else. Some suggest that because much of the news is so London and Westminster centric, regional newspapers will also be more successful at charging their readers for online information. It comes down to specialised content. As Ian Hargreaves Professor of Journalism at Cardiff University said:

“People will pay for things that they really want and can’t get for free. So much news is free and will remain free and the world will need fewer journalists to generate it. But if you’re ahead of your game then people will pay for it.”

So as fewer people are employed to do the same amount of work and as competition therefore increases, journalists as well as publications must up their game. This has spawned a new hybrid – the all-purpose journalist.

Journalists no longer just find a story and write it; they now shoot video, edit video and audio, create digital stories, engage with and talk to their audience via social media, advertise and distribute their work online, even package and advertise themselves. “BE MULTI-SKILLED” is the command of the moment. But as a student journalist I’ve yet evolved into this mutant journalist, a one-stop news creating machine, so the transformation process is a more than a little daunting. So here’s a reassuring word from BBC Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones: “Don’t get to frightened by the image of the all-purpose journalist”, he says, “it’s more important that you develop a specialism.”

A specialism! Now you’re telling me I have to become a specialist one-stop, non-stop news creating machine! Maybe Rory sensed the despair that settled over the room of a 100 student journalists as he said this, so he clarified: “You don’t have to become an ultra-specialist, just someone who can provide added value that the audience can’t get anywhere else.”

Rory Cellan-Jones on how to join the world of specialists

This is the crux of the matter. Both journalists and a publications need to start providing more specialist content if they wish to carve a path that is distinct from the information that can be found for free online. As Rodney Pinder director at International News Safety Institute said:  “We live in quite perilous times in our industry. If we’re looking for support then we have to practice journalism at its highest. In the West we haven’t done ourselves any favours by having so much bias and trash.”


An environmental journalist and communications trainer, Bethan specialises in nature conservation and social justice

Posted in Media

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