Murdoch papers to charge for online news
Rupert Murdoch announces a radical rethink, saying quality journalism cannot be given away
So, at the end of a financial year that proved "the most difficult in recent history" for News Corp, Rupert Murdoch has announced that the days of reading his newspapers for free on the internet will soon be over.
In a move that could prove just as revolutionary as the move to Wapping in 1986, when in one bound he cast off the shackles imposed by the old print unions, Murdoch says that within a year the Times and the Sun in London and the Post in New York will all be charging for access to their websites.
"Quality journalism is not cheap, and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good journalism," he said yesterday as he announced a $3.4bn loss for News Corp, which owns 20th Century Fox, Fox News and Sky TV as well as newspapers.
News Corp's executives are still to decide how much exactly will have to paid by online readers and for what. But Murdoch said he was not scared about losing readers. "If we are successful, we will be followed by all," he predicted.
That is exactly what he told his editors in 1986 - and he was right. But recent moves by other titles to charge have not been a success - the New York Times, for instance, had to abandon an experimental $50 annual charge for reading its columnists - and Murdoch's move is hugely divisive.
Among those cheerleading for online charges are many of his own senior lieutenants, who have been watching advertising drift away from print to online. Robert Thompson, editor of Murdoch's latest acquisition, the Wall Street Journal - the only Murdoch title already charging - does not just want all newspapers to charge, he also wants a clampdown on 'news aggregation' sites which he describes as "parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet".
On the other side are the new media tyros who says it's time for the print journalism dinosaurs to accept their fate. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, said recently that journalism may one day become a part-time pursuit rather than a business.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING:Matt Wells in the Guardian: "It's not the first time that news organisations have flirted with charging for online content. The New York Times hoisted a pay wall around its columnists, only to find that everyone stopped reading them. The elephant in the (British) room is the BBC - which is, in effect, the biggest free news website in the world... one thing is certain: a new round of Murdoch-led lobbying to clip the BBC's online wings."
Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, talking to Der Speigel: "Maybe media won't be a job at all, but will instead be a hobby. There is no law that says that industries have to remain at any given size. Once there were blacksmiths and there were steel workers, but things change."
Robert Thompson, editor of the Wall Street Journal, talking to the
Australian: "Aggregators like Google .. have little incentive to recognise the value they are trading on that's created by others... Google encourages promiscuity - and shamelessly so - and therefore a significant proportion of their users don't necessarily associate that content with the creator."
Bobbie Johnson in the Guardian: "A divisive split has emerged between those who believe that readers must be forced to pay for access to stories or see traditional reporting disappear altogether, and those who believe that a great deal of the information we consume each day is merely a commodity, and journalism must adapt itself to the changing environment." ·
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