Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

The “do” economy (or: why I’m glad Murdoch’s charging for content)

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on August 10, 2009

So Rupert Murdoch’s announced he’s going to start charging for content for the Times newspapers in the UK. This guy thinks it’ll work. This guy doesn’t.

For me, it doesn’t really matter either way, I’m just glad he’s doing it.

Do I support pay walls? No.

Do I think it’ll work? No.

But it’s good because someone, somewhere is doing something.

I’ve used this illustration a couple of times when I’ve given presentations about the future of journalism. It sums up the fact as an industry we’re at a crossroads. Lots of different directions ahead, and the only road we know we can’t take is the one we’ve all just walked up.

But all we’re doing is standing in the middle like a huge flock of sheep arguing about which road to take. And going nowhere.

Murdoch’s announcement marks a positive step forward: someone is walking down one of the roads. Will it work? Who knows. The important thing is he’s trying – and only by actually doing something – something different to what we did before – will change happen.

Lindsey Agness at The Change Corporation sums it up:

“The important thing [is to take] action – sometimes it felt like two steps forward and one step back, but it doesn’t matter as long as you are moving ahead.”

Richard Branson built his empire on the “screw it, let’s do it” mindset

“If something is what you really want to do, just do it. Whatever your goal is you will never succeed unless you let you of your fears and fly.”

And now really is the time.  Multimedia journalist Henkrik Kastenskov over at the Bombay Flying Club summed up the crossroads perfectly this weekend:

“No such thing as the aftermath of an Extinction Level Event to fertilise the ground for new things to come. And the global economic recession was exactly that: an extinction level event.

“The impact of an almost overnight disappearing commercial print market in traditional media have had some profound consequences for the evolution of online media as the great meteor impact on the Yucatan Peninsula had on the off’ing of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, preparing the ground for the rise of mammals.

“…nobody gets ahead by following in the footsteps of others! That…new thing is still lingering somewhere off stage. And right now is the defining moment for that new set of rules to be written. It’s Year Zero, it’s come to Jesus time, and you guys out there are the authors of the new manifest. And frankly: at this point, anything goes.”

Sure, somethings will fail. But what have we got to lose? Anything goes. Just do it differently.
In fact, just do it.

9 Responses

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  1. Daniel said, on August 10, 2009 at 7:35 am

    I’m in two minds, on one hand I think it’s a much needed kick up the ass to this industry.

    We’ve become inundated with crap. Anyone with a browser, digital camera and text editor can now become citizen journalists. CNN even prefers amateurs for their i-report concept, and you get what you pay for.

    Watching any i-report blurb is like watching someone play with a cell phone video of their little brother falling off the slide. Thing is, it’s all free so no-one really minds.

    However, when the public has to start paying for online news content, as they currently do with printed material, you can bet they won’t be paying for amateur stuff like i-report.

    In a way it’s a better situation for many. The publication will start earning revenue from their website, something that hasn’t really been done since the late 90’s when online advertising was all the rage. In turn that means they can now afford to pay for better content, as this will drive the consumer to visit their site and then it means that the journalist/photographer will have to go out and shoot/produce better content, as the public won’t pay for any old tosh.

    Only time will tell I guess

  2. Chris Doidge said, on August 10, 2009 at 7:39 am

    The real question is… would you pay?

    Murdoch charging for every title’s content is a nice theory, but are people really as willing to pay for showbiz gossip as they are for opinion and serious news?

    I read a bit of both, but would happily give up reading the Sun and News of the World online. The Times, on the other hand…

  3. Daniel said, on August 10, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Who really reads the current bun anyway?

    The Times on the other hand, yes i’d pay for a monthly subscription. Not being in the UK means I miss out on a fair few broadsheets, so having that online luxury would be great.

    Add a Kimble to the equation and you have a pretty cool unit for someone who travels

  4. Dani Bora said, on August 10, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Right now, I don’t believe paying for content, especially in its pay-per-article incarnation, is the way forward, as I’m afraid it will hinder traffic and diminish the great global dialogue we got used to.

    Secondly, and most importantly, we’ll need to gauge what are the media orgs’ motives to charge for their content: is it to actually make journalism better — more journos, more pro imagery, new delivery options, etc…— or is it only to prop up ailing print operations and shrinking profits?

  5. Martin said, on August 11, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    “Richard Branson built his empire on the “screw it, let’s do it” mindset”

    Hmm. Iraq war comes to mind.

    I don’t agree that “no one is doing anything”. Everybody is doing everything. And getting a lot of things right.

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