Is Murdoch Heralding The End of Free News?

With Rupert Murdoch’s announcement that News Corp will start charging for content on the internet, there has been much talk about what the implications are in a society that is used to accessing such content for free.  Whilst it is only News Corp at the moment who are looking at this, it will almost certainly lead to other newspaper groups considering their options.  Will others follow suite?  Or will Murdoch’s media empire be the sole crusader against free news?  As a library student, I will be hoping that it is the latter rather than the former (although I also don’t think it makes much business sense either – it won’t increase revenue as long as other groups keep content free).

One of many problems associated with this move is  the impact it will have on public libraries.  For years now, public libraries have been able to access news content on the internet from reliable sources free of charge.  Suddenly, that looks like it could be threatened by this move.  How will public libraries be able to afford to subscribe to a range of newspapers should others follow suit?  Certainly it seems unlikely that they would be able to subscribe to every national newspaper.  But cost isn’t the only concern.

Although the idea is to charge for news content, ensuring that only subscribers can access it, in practice this will be very difficult to manage.  In an era when anyone can publish information for all to see, what is to stop a subscriber from copying chunks of news content and publishing it on a blog?  Very little.  Sure, it risks breaching copyright, but as we saw with the distribution of music files it still happened.  Once these extracts are published on blogs they will be distributed far and wide making it virtually impossible to prosecute everyone involved in its distribution.  And therein lies the other problem for libraries: the temptation to rely on blogs for news content.  It would be very tempting to rely on a freely accessible blog rather than worrying about having to pay for content – quite possible leading to inaccurate information being disseminated.  Good news for bloggers who want to make a name for themselves, bad news for those who require access to accurate information. (Although that doesn’t mean that I have a problem with allsuch content.  There are some excellent blogs out there and I also see the value of resources such as Wikipedia, it just means more care needs to be taken.)

It will be interesting to see if anyone else does follow suit or whether this is a massive error by a newspaper owner who has never really got to grips with the internet.  Personally, for the sake of access to information, I hope that the majority of newspapers continue to carry freely accessible content.


5 thoughts on “Is Murdoch Heralding The End of Free News?

  1. Pingback: HotStuff 2.0 » Blog Archive » Word of the Day: "murdoch"

  2. First thing that came to me is – is Rupert really arrogant enough to think any of his publications are more highly regarded than the BBC? And as long as we’re living in the UK and paying a license feee, the BBC will be free – exactly who is he expecting will pay this premium for his low quality, biased “news”??

  3. Not sure that anyone would pay for it as long as the BBC continues to churn out free news. Perhaps that explains Murdoch Jnr’s recent attack.

  4. I’ve long championed Open and free access to information and Data. But I think this is a different case.

    First, the Times created the content (unlike a academic journal where it is given to the publisher for free). They need to make their money back, or shut down.

    At the moment they, and nearly all papers, try and do this through advertising. But this isn’t working, and the revenue seems to be going down, not up, from what I understand.

    So the other option is to charge for access.

    But i guess it will be hard to get people to pay, and the price will need to be low. i.e. at the moment someone buying a paper a day is spending ver roughly £20 a month, I think few would be willing to pay this. £5/month sounds more tempting.

    The Times wouldn’t be the first, FT and others require payment for access to more than a few articles.

    As for Libraries, I see your point but Libraries already do subscribe to some online services, and many pay for print newspapers, so this is another expense but not unique. Many sites offer cheap/free access for Libraries.

    I love the BBC in everyway, and think it provides such excellent value for money that i really do think those who complain about it are mad. But saying Murdoch can’t do this because of the BBC News site is like fuel on the flames, it’s basically saying a News source (a newspapers website) can not be a viable business (breakeven) while the BBC news site exists.

    For what its worth, while I do find the BBC News site reliable and impartial, I do find it a little lightweight sometimes. And find better reporting at the NYT/IHT.

    So while I don’t want to pay for access to Newspaper websites, I can’t see a long term way that papers can survive while print declines and the web is free and advertising declines. I’m not a Murdoch fan by any means but I can see why they are considering this, and see it as regrettable, but not evil.

    Finally, I would rather I paid for than see the Observer close for good.

    Chris Keene

  5. Thanks Chris, some interesting points there. I agree that sometimes the BBC can lack detail in some of its reporting, but then I think that is the same as most media. This especially true when you consider that increasing numbers of reports are just lifted straight from the Associated Press. Maybe charging for content will raise standards, as there will (in theory at least) be less need to economise and simply ‘lift’ large chunks of text from the AP. Although that remains to be seen (any profit driven organisation will aim to deliver profits so it is equally possible that any extra revenues will be delivered to shareholders). I guess we won’t really know the impact until it happens. However, one thing we can be assured of is that the Murdoch owned press will go after the BBC as never before as it will be the biggest threat to their proposed new business model. The dominance of profit-driven media, and the destruction of the publicly owned BBC, would be a disaster in terms of quality news production. You only have to look at the media landscape in the US to see the devastating impact ‘the market’ has on informing the general public.

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