If the play is the thing to test the conscience of the King, then the Emperor of Wapping is in for a tough time. The Times and the Sunday Times in the UK are now in the News Corp Bad Bank, and Wall Street very understandably says that “something must be done” about the continuing losses at Times Newspapers. My friend and colleague, Ken Doctor, clear leader in the critical analysis of newspaper prospects in the US, is an optimist. He sees growing revenues from online advertising and digital subscriptions slowly filling the gap and eventually pulling a reconstructed press out of the mire. Mr Murdoch should surely read him attentively as one of the few hopeful auguries on the market, but it is hard to apply Ken’s logic, which may work for major US regionals, at The Times. There the only medicine that anyone seems to imagine will work is more cuts to the scarred and bleeding body of the Old Thunderer. The three act drama we have been watching for the past few months has now reached Act 2 , but based on the form of the playwright, I am privileged to offer you a peek at the final act (and leave it to you to decide whether this is comedy or tragedy – or farce).

Act 1 opened on a dark heath, at night. Six shadowy figures, half witches, half warlocks, stirred a pot, uttering incantations, as their leader dipped his pen into the broth and used it as ink. “Yes”, said Rupert Pennant Rea, for it is he “this evidence to Leveson will ensure that we six independent National Directors of Times Newspapers will never be overlooked again. Here we remind the noble Lord that we were created in 1981 as trustees in the public interest, independently appointed and self-appointing: no editor can be appointed or fired without our agreement .” Exeunt All, and then we find ourselves in the Imperial Court, where His Majesty, Digger II, sits restlessly on the Imperial Chair, reading a profit and loss account. “By the Guns of Gallipoli and my father’s scoops”, he shouts “I will abolish red ink with red blood. Send for Harding of the Times and Witherow of the Sunday Times and make them Accountable!” As the supplicant editors are dragged into the presence, each man is asked what he will sacrifice to make red ink black. One voice pleads for more independence, an end to new print plants in Essex. The other, more experienced player insinuates the thought that it would be cheaper to run the two newspapers together, to have one newsroom, one accounts department, one sales and marketing presence – and one editor. “You have it!, cries the Emperor, “that is exactly what I would have said , and now I come to think of it, it is exactly what I did say. Since I cannot recall if one of you said it, lets assume it was me. But we certainly don’t want bright young things around here like you, Harding, so you are fired. Meanwhile, loyal and long-serving Witherow, you shall be our chief of editors of all our newspapers. Let the cuts commence…!”

Act 2 brings us back to the Heath, as Rupert P-R briefs his colleagues. “How can this have happened! The Emperor knows that we have rights of approval. Put out a press release showing that Witherow is only acting until we have considered carefully whether this man who we have known and worked with as the editor of one of our newspapers for a decade is suitable to edit the other. But we must be honoured in the breach, or Wapping Wood shall never come to Dun-Insane!”. And then the scene changes, and we open a new one as the Emperor screams “Only acting! Who do they think they are. That agreement I made with Ken Thomson is over thirty years old. Send runners to the people we helped into office to run this accursed country, and ask for a Private member’s Bill to abolish this arrangement. I must be free!”

Of course, I have made all this up and shockingly put words into everyone’s mouths, and I must ask the forgiveness of the innocent when I have traduced them. But, is this really any way to make newspapers pay? If they cannot be run at a profit, why have them at all? Over at DMGT they clearly have no doubts about selling the whole of Northcliffe into Local Worlds. While I do not want to argue that the Times is more important than the Leicester Mercury, I do want to suggest that the way to cure their ills is to re-focus on the behaviour of the customer. David Montgomery, Chairman of Local Worlds, was quoted today in the Telegraph as saying that he would “stop the trend of cost cutting for the sake of cost-cutting”, despite claiming to be “leaving the industrial baggage of print behind”. This too seems to me not to answer the question of how people with networked access will want to be drip fed news and update locally, regionally or nationally.

And so, Act 3. The runners return to the Emperor, saying that the government politely declined. “After the phone hacking scandal, and the allegations of business closeness between the erstwhile CEO of News International and the Prime Minister, this may be an inopportune moment to be seen to be helping the Chairman get out of agreements that he willingly got into.” So the Emperor decides just to go on acting, and refusing to appoint or approve new national directors just as they refuse to approve his editors until the whole cast list approaches retirement or a more final exit – and then they stop arguing for a moment and turn round and find that – the Times has ceased to exist in print. One of those plays then that started as a comedy, became a farce in Act 2, yet turned eventually to tragedy.

A few weeks ago, in “Scraps and Jottings” I tried to reflect, while talking about the newly-launched journal Cureus, an increasing feeling that both traditional publishers and the mujahaddeen of the Open Access world (yes, that good Mullah Harnad and his ilk) are both being overtaken by events. The real democratization which will change this world is popular peer review. Since the Mujahadeen got in and named the routes to Open Access Paradise as Green and Gold, and publishers seem quite happy to work within these definitions, especially if they are gold, I have no choice but to name the Post Publication Peer Review process as the Black Route to Open Access. You read it here first.

This thought is underlined by the announcement, since I wrote my previous piece, that the Faculty of 1000 (F1000Research) service has emerged from its six month beta and can now be considered fully launched. Here we have a fully developed service, dedicated to immediate “publication”, inclusive of all data, totally open and unrestricted in access and enabling thorough and innovative refereeing as soon as the article is available. And the refereeing is open – no secrets of the editorial board here, since all of the reports and commentaries are published in full with the names and affiliations of referees. The F1000Research team report that in the last six months they have covered major research work from very prominent funders – Wellcome, NIH etc – and that they now have 200 leading medical and biological science researchers on their International Advisory panel and more than 1000 experts on the Editorial Board (see http://f1000research.com). And since they have a strategic alliance with figshare, the Macmillan Digital Science company, “publishing” in this instance could be as simple as placing the article in the researcher’s own repository and opening it up within F1000Research. And since othe partners include Dryad and biosharing, the data can also be co-located within specialized data availability services. Saves all those long waits – as soon as it is there, with its data as well, the article is ready to be referenced alongside the academic’s next grant application. The fact that all current publishing has been accompanied by the relevant data release (for which read genomes, spreadsheets, videos, images, software, questionnaires etc) indicates that this too is not the barrier that conventional article publishing made it out to be.

Ah, you will say, the problem here is that the article will not get properly into the referencing system and without a “journal” brand attached to it there will be a tendency to lose it. Well, some months ago Elsevier agreed that Scopus and Embase would carry abstracts of these articles, and, as as I write PubMed has agreed to inclusion once post-publication review has taken place. But then, you will say, these articles will not have the editorial benefits of orthodox journal publishing, or appear in enhanced article formats. Well, nothing prevents a research project or a library licensing Utopia Docs, and nothing inhibits a freelance market of sub-editors selling in services if F1000Research cannot provide them – this is one labour market which is dismally well staffed at present.

Now that F1000Research has reached this point it is hard to see it not move on and begin to influence the stake which conventional publishing has already established in conventional Open Access publishing. And F1000 obviously has interesting development plans of its own: its F1000Trials service is already in place to cover this critical part of bio-medical scholarly communication, and, to my great joy, it has launched F1000Posters, covering a hugely neglected area for those trying to navigate and annotate change and track developments. Alongside Mendeley and the trackability of usage, post-publication review seems to me a further vital step towards deep, long term change in the pattern of making research available. My new year recommendation to heads of STM publishing houses is thus simple: dust off those credit cards, book a table at Pied de Terre, and invite Vitek round for lunch. He has not sold an STM company since BMC, but it looks as if he has done the magic once again.

But, now, I must end on a sad note. The suicide this week of Aaron Swartz, at the age of 26, is a tragic loss. I understand that he will be known as one of the inventors of RSS – and of Reddit – and he had been inventing and hacking since he was 13. PACER/RECAP controversially “liberated” US Common Law to common use. He was known to suffer from severe depression and it appears that he ended his life in a very depressed state. But here is what Cory Doctorow (http://boingboing.net/2013/01/12/rip-aaron-swartz.html) had to say about what might have been a contributory factor:

“Somewhere in there, Aaron’s recklessness put him right in harm’s way. Aaron snuck into MIT and planted a laptop in a utility closet, used it to download a lot of journal articles (many in the public domain), and then snuck in and retrieved it. This sort of thing is pretty par for the course around MIT, and though Aaron wasn’t an MIT student, he was a fixture in the Cambridge hacker scene, and associated with Harvard, and generally part of that gang, and Aaron hadn’t done anything with the articles (yet), so it seemed likely that it would just fizzle out.

Instead, they threw the book at him. Even though MIT and JSTOR (the journal publisher) backed down, the prosecution kept on. I heard lots of theories: the feds who’d tried unsuccessfully to nail him for the PACER/RECAP stunt had a serious hate-on for him; the feds were chasing down all the Cambridge hackers who had any connection to Bradley Manning in the hopes of turning one of them, and other, less credible theories. A couple of lawyers close to the case told me that they thought Aaron would go to jail.”

Well, one thing we can be quite certain about. Protecting intellectual property or liberating it cannot ever be worth a single human life.

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