New model journalism will exploit rather than resent the freedoms of the net…

One of the liveliest discussions at Picamp on Tuesday was the problem of how you maintain scrutiny of politics at a time of falling ad revenues are disincentivising commercial media organisations from strong political and current affairs reporting… Matt Cooper in the Irish Examiner (echoing Rupert Murdoch’s recent remarks) reckons that ‘end users’ will have to pay, if they want good quality news. Matt quotes Robert Thomson, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, who may be in the process of setting off a big political battle with Google, the pioneering billionaires of net ad revenue, and putative architect of big newspapers’ downfall:

“There is a collective consciousness among content creators that they are bearing the costs and that others are reaping some of the revenues,” he said recently. “Inevitably that profound contradiction will be a catalyst for action and the moment is nigh. There is no doubt certain websites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet.”

That sounds to me like the declaration of corporate ‘thumb war’… In truth, Murdoch has been slow to come to this party… Waiting until it became a threat to bottom line rather than his topline figures may be what’s driving to take this aggressive stance… I am not sure how you put the genii back inside, especially when the bottle has been uncorked for so long…

Talking to James Harkin, the Belfast born author of Cyburbia: The Dangerous Idea That’s Changing How We Live and Who We are recently, it became obvious to me that the truth neither lies with the defenders of old world models of journalism nor the small platoons of citizen journalism. Interestingly, in a debate in last month’s copy of Prospect blog sceptic Paul Starr put the imperative facing political journalism better than I have seen for a while:

When I spoke of newspapers retrenching, and the inability of online news to fill the gap, I was referring to coverage of state government in New Jersey. It happens to be true, and it’s also true of government in other states as well. Nothing that you have said addresses this decline in reporting and its implications for political accountability – and your site is certainly no solution – you can’t aggregate stories that aren’t being written. Solving that problem is going to demand new investments in journalism by non profit organisations. new business models that finance reporting, and new public policies that allow news organisations to campture more of the revenue from the public good they produce.

As I argued in a presentation to the Reuters Institute last November, bloggers are opportunists… And, I would argue, that some of us do an order of work that the conventional model of journalism no longer funds… The let’s shut down the ‘net brigade may be angry but they are looking in the wrong direction…

In high finance, market information specialists like Breaking Views, a breakway from the Lex Column, do quite nicely (or nichely)… On a subscriber base of 15,000, and columns syndicated to a series of influential newspapers and magazines it funds 22 columnists and correspondents, and provides the kind of depth coverage that most conventional papers for which there is demand, but the conventional model of journalism cannot provide… Like a good blog would, they get on a story early, ride it through to the peak and work it thoroughly through the after effects…

As editorial direction in traditional papers hauls people off the story to conserve meagre resources, Breaking Views continues with the kind of follow through that is essential for anyone with a deep interest in the subject… They fill a need, and since the market will bear it, they can charge accordingly… In other less profitable market areas, alternative models may have to be developed and adopted…

But almost everything else in this equation is a distraction; not least the bloggers vs journos dilemma (the relationship is often a great deal more harmonious than either party likes to admit)… Unfunded blogs cannot, and probably have little interest in, doing classic journalism; but that does not mean there is no viable model that can create chargeable value that exploits (rather than is terrified by) the freer marketplace of the internet…

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    It may well be that interactive nature of a slugger-type-platform which relies partly for the story from the contributors as it develops is a model with the built-in flexibility that is more appropriate than ‘fixed’ news stories which then are commented on as in the daily newspapers.

    The problem with deriving revenue from such a flexible model, is that through greater popularity and use, the quality of the contributions will probably deteriorate as the volume increases and in turn lead to unclear and less credible ‘news’.

    One observation/criticism of Slugger is that it tends to follow (too much) the stories as posted in the conventional media as the basis for comment rather than seeking to discuss the issues based on their own merits or on views expressed by contributors giving the impression that Slugger is a secondary source of opinion.

    One recent exmaple of this is on Chris’s story re. Coleraine where Kevin Myers (although I am a big fan of his) said the PSNI should have shot his attackers if it wasnt for the nasty old GFA
    and yet this discssion to-shoot-or-not-to-shoot was already raging on another thread without any assistance whatosever from the boul Kevin.

  • DC

    Yes, I’m all for better news, news is news because well it is new info, but I’m also well in favour of a complete overhaul of libel. Ensuring individuals better protection and the right to block print through upfront notification of any article to be printed. It will still be news just with the exception that a bit of due process will be had before hand.

    Quality news cannot compete with tittle tattle anyway no matter how good it is so lets regulate out tittle tattle in terms of market regulation so that the good stuff remains salient and the shit is removed. And that I suppose will have to include blogs dare it be said!

    It might mean life becomes a little more difficult for journos but ive just about had it with freedom of the press.

    Think Max Mosley, then the death of his son and now the McCann story, such journalism I hope can be closed out, I hope the MPs remaining in Westminster do something fast to regulate this in an innovate but fair way, the last sting of a dying parliamentary wasp?

    It might seem like revenge but so what there are many authentic cases of gross irresponsibility that is actionable but the plebs cant stomp up the cash to fight it off nor have the time scale within which to attempt to do so. I am all for freedom of the press so long as it is genuine and real. And this applies in relation to Breen, the RIRA killed Donaldson, prove it? Otherwise don’t print it, because freedom and anonymity means she doesn’t have to actively seek out corroborating evidence as they the terrorists can come to her under the cloak of anonymity aka protecting my sources. Balls, just balls if you ask me.

    It is time to better regulate the media so as to keep news real, relevant and authentic.

  • joeCanuck

    freedom of the press

    I’ve said this recently on another thread but I’ve heard it said that freedom of the press only applies to he or she who owns one. There is a lot of truth in that,I believe, which maybe explains why some (a lot of?) proprietors hate blogs.

  • DC

    I’m coming at it moreso in protecting privacy for positive purposes than opening up to negativity in the press, so humiliation be it at personl, community and societal levels means sensitive issues get blown out of control.

    But, yes the commercial aspect is indeed one thing but frankly I couldn’t give a stuff as there’s always the BBC and publicly funded outlets with a degree of ethics. The rest, in my opinion, particularly the red tops editors can go and fiddle while their little media empire burns.

  • Eddie

    DC ssays (at 2 above)

    “Ensuring individuals better protection and the right to block print through upfront notification of any article to be printed.It will still be news just with the exception that a bit of due process will be had before hand.”

    You can not be serious! Some politicians, paricularly, would love you. Or maybe you are one?

    “Of any article to be printed” – I can’t believe you aid that. Even in some dictatorships that doesn’t happen.

  • DC

    I know I’m going to be on the unpopular end of the argument but hey how would you like to be written about in the paper which could be potentially libelous and have absolutely nothing at hand or in law to stop it.

    News is new info, now if you hold the story what is to say that even a week’s worth of notification wouldn’t help so as to counter-act any spurious or libelous information?

    How would you like it? But the sad fact is Eddie, I’m guessing, but you probably couldn’t even afford it even if you wanted to try and stop it. But at least you would be prepared to defend yourself, freely with a degree of composure, rather than waking up and being found in some say sex-act, then a week or so later your son is dead…for example. Nice.

    Remember I’m talking about privacy libel stuff of the red-tops that even the dog in street knows is not in the public interest. Know what I mean? The fourth estate should feel the heat, even Robbie Williams went on record to say that the red-top journos were all pretty much coke heads too yet ripped to pieces Craig Charles for doing it.

    I actually bought the paper that day because the language was so emotive and ruinous that it had to be read and re-read just to believe how horrible the press can be about people.

    Oh yes, not to mention the guy Mark Speight, ended up hung by the railway track after his fiancé died of an OD. Etc, etc, etc, etc.

    The red tops just like to crap all over people then point in ridicule, that’s why most people think such journos and their own well-paid lawyers are actually conveived via anal sex.

  • I a big fan of Matt Cooper but I don’t think he quite understands how information online.

    Suggesting that newspapers will have to make individuals pay for news online is suggesting that they act as a global cartel. If they do so they’ll be sending people to places like Slugger in their droves.

    Newspapers are bloated products, so much of them is wasteful and unnecessary content – if newspapers printed just the content that “afflicts the comfortable” they’d be far more effective and cost-efficient.

    At present it’s not enough to simply decide “let’s stick up a paywall as an industry” news online must be a better product that makes use of all the potential of the tools online. Adverts should be interactive, Google maps should document every outlet etc etc, trying to use the display model that is part of TV and print is simply stupid.

    I’m still waiting for a newspaper website to cop on to the fact classifieds could be sold through Paypal with an input form that could be filled out by the advertiser. It would require nothing extra in staff costs and could be designed in a week.

    I’ve written about this (something similar to this) topic before on

  • commercial media outlets are not alone in feeling the pinch. RTÉ Raidio na Gaeltachta, which broadcasts no ads, is shortly to lose two of its main current affairs programmes, Seo Beo an tSathairn and Faoi Chaibidil, and have its flagship morning news show, cut back by one third to one hour Monday to Friday. This apparently is a response to the cuts at RTÉ as a result of the disastrous slump in advertising revenue. However the station is still persisting with its expensive and pointless digital radio experiment….

    These cuts will leave RTÉ RnaG as a wasteland with wall to wall music request shows and very little in the way of wide appeal speech programming at a time when there’s an increasing demand for same.

    This is a severe blow to Irish language broadcast journalism – is this part of RTÉ’s remit?