In a piece for New Matilda, Overland editor Jeff Sparrow has put forward a great idea for the future of online journalism: an online ABC newspaper. It could be staffed by all the journos being made redundant by Fairfax and News Ltd.
“The media empires have responded to plummeting circulation and the migration of classified advertising online by slashing expenses. But since the cuts threaten the things newspapers do best, that strategy amounts to curing a disease by killing the patient. The war in Afghanistan remains scandalously underreported, but, maintaining a correspondent in a conflict zone is tremendously expensive and the kind of grim news that comes from a war will scarcely boost sales anyway. Much easier to pull a report about Afghanistan from the newswire and fill your pages with celebrity gossip. You can see the process at work on the websites of all the Australian papers. The internet, we’re told, represents the future of the press. If that’s true, we’re in for a grim time, since even the broadsheets are desperately trawling for clicks by foregrounding sex scandals and paparazzi photos.”
With Fairfax and News Ltd soon charging for online content (when did news become content?), it makes perfect sense for the ABC to beat them all and become the most popular news site in Australia. (Current traffic figures have SMH and Ninemsn as the top two – there’s nothing like Hotmail and running articles over several pages so readers have to click three times per story to boost your figures.)
Besides needing to give people a reason to pay for your news when they can get it elsewhere for free, another problem with charging for content is that other people can’t link to you. Fewer links and Google starts to forget who you are.