21 May 2009

Pay Me For Talking

I saw this little piece by Christina Patterson this morning, and to sum it up: what utter guff it is

She is of course talking about the imminent death of the 'fourth estate' - how the newspapers are in terminal decline thanks to the internet, what with it's up-to-date and (crucially) free, information

She bemoans the people who decided to give away the news-stories for free on the net as lacking any sort of business sense

Well, personally I think she's a little naive - firstly, it's not bad business sense, it's far better than simply printing a paper and not offering any online content, or the ludicrous idea that people would pay to read an opinionated rag when they can read everything else for free, surely you should be trying to rake it in with advertising?

Yes, it's true that paper sales are down - but here is the important point: they would be down anyway! Why do you think people want to buy a paper that's full of yesterday's news when they could read it before they even go bed the night before on the net, or watch a news channel? Papers do not provide news to people anymore, they barely ever reveal anything in the morning release - we already know what has happened, and as a result all a paper is nowadays is a collection of opinions on the stories, anything 'exclusive' will be around non-stories (ie. the tremendous rise of 'celebrity' news that dominates our most popular papers) - the era where one gets their news for the day from the papers in the morning and the six o clock news in the evening is long gone, and I'm afraid the newspapers have to keep up

What Christina wants is for her content to not be read by those not willing to pay for it, and I'm afraid she sounds like an outdated protectionist, akin to the music companies determined to keep profits for themselves in an era when someone off myspace can have more fans than 90% of their clients

The system is simply unworkable - I think she wants to set up a system where the press only provide their online news to paying customers - the idea is frankly ludicrous, I barely need to explain why, but for one: news sites are not just run by newspapers! There are plenty of free news sources out there - the BBC is a slightly odd example as it's public-funded, but nonetheless a valid one, as it's the most used news website in the world - you don't need to go to the Indie, Sun or Telegraph, you can go direct to Reuters if you want

Because let's face it, what do the newspapers offer now? As I said, they don't have the exclusives anymore, and if they do, an online outlet can easily pick up the story, as they have done with MPs expenses - I'd love to know how she would justify stopping someone like the BBC not covering a story broken by the Telegraph.... I digress, my point was that newspapers really have little to offer now - all they have left is opinion, which is exactly what she is peddling - why should I pay for that? I can go all over the net and find opinions, the Indie and all the rest have the benefit of a brand, but opinion is opinion and it means bugger all in reality, I only peruse the newspapers' sites to have a look at how they are manipulating people on any given day, and to have a good rant - I don't need to, and wouldn't pay for the privilege when I have the BBC, Guido and Reuters, to name but a few, available to me for the actual story

No, this is merely another case of what I call 'deer-trapped-in-headlights' protectionism - look at any industry through the past centuries and see how they fight tooth and nail to prevent their own destruction as new technology makes them redundant - it's human instinct to protect your livelihood, but it's also counter-productive and never wins out in the long run

Information will become free, and I don't see anything wrong with breaking people like Murdoch's grip on it - they are at the end of the day only out to serve their own interests and line their own pockets, they have (or had) a monopoly on it

She does make one valid point however - the issue of investigative journalism (which I note, does not seem to be part of her job as a 'cultural commentator') - who will pay people to investigate dodgy dealings? And how can you trust a blogger? These are valid concerns that have been raised occasionally - but as we've seen, the people on the net can do a pretty good job at investigation, all Dizzy does is send off FOI requests and finds great stories - that is actual journalists' work, all done for free, and money can be made with advertising revenue. There are countless examples of information being exposed first on the net (see: Drudge) and at the end of the day that can be used by sites to make money, and no doubt a system of regulation will be built, just as happened around the two centuries we've had of print dominance - and to use a rather cheap and lazy argument: while we have the convenience of the powerful BBC to investigate (scoff if you wish) there remains some authority in the media

She also worries for prose - well, casting aside her obvious snobbery (she's covers 'culture' after all) she is being quite rude to a lot of bloggers out there - many write superbly, and I myself tend not to 'vomit out vitriol' too often (noticed a mistake?), it is simply a case of separating the wheat from the chaff - and let's not forget the ridiculous spelling and grammar issues in those well-respected names, the Mail and the Sun, oh and Gruniad anyone? She is in a very privileged position being paid to comment on her arty topics, but that doesn't mean others can't do it - part of the threat from the internet is that it shows 'real' people can provide just as much insight as those who've been fortunate enough to get their name in lights, as it were - why do you think people in the 'blogosphere' are popular? It's just sheer arrogance to assume those in the papers are really any better

People have always found a way to make money out of information, and I'm sure it will continue, just in a new form that we are only just coming to realise - the newspaper, however, is a dying form, much like typewriters and VCRs once were, and it will take some business nous to properly tap into the new system, but people will, and if an old media outlet does adapt then it will do fine, but there will be casualties, and Christina Patterson is simply a fearful Luddite

*Note: I am aware the FT has an online subscription service - but that is a specialist publication with a dedicated readership and an actual product to sell, there is nothing of that sort in the other papers

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