Is it paranoid to think that everyone is out to do you down, when in fact everyone is trying to secure your extinction? Of course not, and the newspaper industry must be protected from the charge of paranoia, just as in previous times, when it ruled the media roost, it needed to be protected from a charge of arrogance.  The truth is that the world has been unkind to newspaper men since the days of William Randolph Hearst and Alfred, Lord Northcliffe.  Creating commercial empires from selling advertising and exhibiting a callow disregard for truth and accuracy when it got in the way of a good story was, from the 1890s to the 1930s, itself a good story.  And newspaper owners had to be audacious rogues to get away with it.

History does this.  Eighteenth century libertarians in England looked back at a world of idealized Anglo-Saxon common lands and village councils, and deplored enclosures and loss of liberty.  Now we look back at the enclosed parkland estates as the real world that we have lost.  In the same way, newspaper owners who have long lost touch with the ill-written bastardized press releases used in Britain’s regional press to divide columns of advertising, and who have spent a decade firing the ignoble hacks who produced this nutrition-free copy in order to maximize margins, now appear on high horse to defend their high-value “content” from web users when those Anglo-Saxon peasants have the cheek (or innocence) to want to link similar references together in the collaborative world of the web.  Only this week did the Intellectual Property Director of NewsInternational liken linking to shoplifting (Guardian letters, 25 January 2009) and protest that ” The public is well-served by companies like News that invest in creativity”.

And then, still worse, the CEO of Trinity Mirror uses last week’s Oxford Media Convention to lambast local government-run news sheets as “mini-Pravdas” which provide a further source of unfair competition for her declining news output.  Here indeed is an industry first: whoever heard of British local government, when mentioned in the pages of the regional press, ever getting anything right  ?  But here, like the BBC, they now appear to be a rival.  Perhaps this is because they generally cannot afford to rewrite the press releases, and are therefore compelled to pass them on accurately?  Or have they taken to employing the wordsmiths fired by the private sector?  The real issue here, as with the newspapers of Mr Murdoch, may be about political influence, but that somehow does not seem to be a cause for concern.

When we get to write the history of these headless days in the decline and fall of the Press, we will wonder at the lack of strategic appreciation.  It is not just that the co-operative web community environment is wholly alien to people who sell a bundle of folded paper sheets to each of many isolated, individual citizens.  It is the lack of thinking around scale and impact which is so surprising.  This week produced a classic example.  The UK start-up Rightmove, founded by real property resellers and now a quoted company, dominates the UK market.  In 2007, Mr Murdoch came in with a rush and bought smaller and more specialized services like Globrix and Propertyfinder.  Last year News International sold off these interests, and this year DMGT bought Globrix, and put it into its Digital Property Group with Findahome, Findaproperty and PrimeLocation.  This gives DMGT a large but second ranked portfolio of services in a market where its ability to command the attention of real estate agents is much diminished.  The other News Corp property, PropertyFinder, has gone to Zoopla, the alternative community trade model which cuts out, or at least cuts down, the agent middleman.  Strategically, neither DMGT or News feels like an expensive competitive auction for Rightmove: equally, neither could face up to a business model that meant cutting the throats of their erstwhile advertisers, the real estate agents.  Result: strategic paralysis.  Reasons for hope: DMGT is no longer dependent on selling newsprint for over 50% of its revenues and profits.  And neither is Hearst.  What would William Randolph and Lord Alfred have made of that?


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  1. David Worlock | Developing digital strategies for the information … | Drakz Free Online Service on January 26, 2010 15:23

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