Mark Scott’s falling empires

As a journo I spend a bit of time wondering if my job will exist in two years’ time. Sometimes I’m so over putting together yet another bikini gallery for work that I wish my job would vanish. But other times I have a sense of hope that it will get better.

So I’m reading ABC MD Mark Scott’s speech, delivered last night, on the fall of media empires. It’s a response to Murdoch’s push to charge for content and James Murdoch’s attack on the BBC in August.

But now, the man who just four years ago said he wanted to “make the necessary cultural changes to meet the new demands of the digital native” says he’s not going to respond to the demands of these digital natives. Instead, they – who have never in their lives paid for news online – will be asked to respond instead to his demands and start paying.

The argument seems to be that people once didn’t pay to watch television but now many do. We fought against timed local calls but now make them every day on our mobiles. Some of us might pay for recorded music we might once have illegally downloaded. And because we want to read and see this great content so badly, now we will pay for that.

My gut feeling is that the empires are going about it the wrong way. Earlier in the year, Nicolas Sarkozy said 18-year-olds could get a free daily newspaper of their choice. Get ’em hooked when they’re young, and get ’em interested in the news. Nine months later, little news babies have been born:

And 65 percent of the young subscribers continue to read Ouest France at least once a week after their free subscriptions end.

Obviously they had to think about content teens would want to read, and balance that with the news desires of their existing audience. But why isn’t this happening here? Rather than lament the decline in newspaper sales and then dumb them down further in a failed effort to appeal to more people, why not be more aggressive? Give teens free papers (no doubt their parents will also read them), pump money into investigations rather than just media release-generated news, and bring back the quality. After all, The Economist is doing really well.

As Mark Scott said: I suspect too much attention is being given to
finding a pay model rather than addressing the content questions in terms of quality and distinctiveness that will really drive audience commitment.

I don’t think bloggers pose a real threat to news organisations. A few really successful bloggers (oh, to dream) may attract some of the news audience, but someone who’s interested in a news-related blog is also going to be interested in the news. And Twitter won’t replace a news organisation because what are users going to link to when they discuss the news in 140 characters?

Besides, newspapers have always been propped up by the classifieds, so now that this has changed, why do we expect them to suddenly earn their keep?

3 responses to “Mark Scott’s falling empires

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  2. My first thought when I saw that initiative of Sarkozy was that he’s getting people conditioned to hear mainstream framing of news stories from a young age.

    I heard a story on 2ser a while ago about community journalism. Can’t recall the details but it was something like a central database of journos that people can access and then pay to have certain issues that they’re interested in, investigated by journalists. I thought it sounded interesting. Do you know what I’m talking about?

    • I do know who you’re talking about. There’s a group in the US and one in Melbourne, I think with Margaret Simons running it. It’s interesting, but does rely on people making donations, which they’ll only do for stories they want to know about. Which means many things will go unreported – if this is where journalism ends up, of course. And I don’t think it will. Perhaps I’m in denial. But I do think it’s important to be trying different things, and I hope they are successful. The one size fits all model died a long time ago.

      And I accept your point about mainstream framing, but I think that perhaps it’s more important to create that interest in the news in the first place. After all, we have an interest in the news and yet are aware of mainstream biases. A questioning mind, and all that. And you can’t question if you don’t know at least a little of what’s going on.

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