There’s so much coverage of the shutting down of the News of the World, including mine, but I’m not seeing anyone talking about the journalist at the heart of this story – but who comes out with his reputation and morals intact.
Nick Davies has for four years kept this story alive, ignoring every threat and denial from News International, and always trusting his sources and instincts.
News of the World editor told staff yesterday: “The Guardian was out to get us, and they got us,” almost inferring a personal vendetta. But this is business: Davies uncovers wrong-doing for a living. NOTW may have hacked as many as 4,000 phones, including missing schoolchildren and war heroes’ families.
It’s about power and the power elite and the way that the power elite tend to look after each other. I think it’s reasonable to observe that the Murdoch corporation has too much power and its’ evident in the way that the police, the Press Complaints Commission and some politicians automatically backed off and said ‘let’s not cause trouble, they might hurt us’, that they already had too much power when all this was going on on.
It seems to me highly unlikely that it’s in the interests of society as a whole to give that too powerful group yet more power.
I rather think the threat from Murdoch owning more stuff is slightly over-stated but it’s hard to argue with his analysis of the forces that were holding back the reporting of tabloid journalism’s excesses during the last few decades. Much like with MPs’ expenses, the rules or transparency have now been re-written.
Davies is scathing about the Met police, whose fear of “causing trouble with this newspaper empire” saw multiple investigations dropped, despite live evidence. “There are senior officers who must be seriously considering whether they should resign,” he says.
Oh and Davies also casually says that he’s spoken to NOTW hacks (pun intended) who in 2005 asked Glenn Mulcaire to hack the voicemails of David Cameron and George Osbourne. If Davies’s reporting on this so far is any guide, you’d be foolish to question him.
The paywall debate has focused on how consumers might consume the news industry’s end product: news. “Will readers pay for news online?” “Will the industry survive this change?” “Won’t people just get it for free someplace else?”
These are the news industry’s Frequently Asked Questions right now. Even people that don’t believe in Rupert Murd och‘s pile-’em-high subscription strategy – free content activist Guardian News & Media to name one – want to know whether TheTimes.co.uk will be a success.
But paywalls do not sprout overnight, they need real planning. Just look at my old colleague Martin Stabe’s presentation at SIPA on the nuts and bolts of implementing subscriptions at Emap’s Retail Week magazine. So here are some other questions it might be worth asking. Continue reading →
Update 1/7/10: See Tom Whitwell’s comment below: he points out that of course there are adverts on thetimes.co.uk, “on every page” even. “We just don’t have dozens of flashing popup/popunder ads for Albanian bingo parlours,” he says.
So I admit to exaggerating slightly by saying there are “no” adverts – but one or two display boxes on a page is a real contrast from most online newspapers and I think my general point stands: one of the selling points of the Times online is to not have your attention diverted by garish Flash animations and gaudy rollovers.
Original: If we boil this paid content debate to its essence, it comes to this:
People either pay to read and watch stuff you make
On one hand, digital ad spend will soon reach £3.79 billion a year in the UK, overtaking TV and print, according to an eMarketer survey of analysts’ ad projections so there unquestionably is some business model to be constructed from ad-based media (not all analysts are as optimistic incidentally, though most agree online is returning to growth after some stagnation).
There are no shortage of autobiographies, memoirs and tales from Fleet Street’s pomp, when hacks would gossip the day long and could navigate its countless boozers without getting wet in a rainstorm.
Mostly, they describe a rapidly disappearing world of mass circulations, huge staff rosters and a narrow media culture compared to today. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention – and anyone interested in the trade should spend some time with Harry Evans’s My Paper Chase: Stories of Vanished Times, which I’ve only just got round to reading.
Evans is famous for tenacious, risky investigative campaigning journalism while editor of the Sunday Times in the 1970s. He and his Insight team uncovered the Thalidomide scandal that left children disfigurered at birth, often without limbs, due to the morning sickness drug prescribed to pregnant women, to name just one.
Without going into all that, here’s a passage from the book on how Evans was grilled by the editorial board of Times Newspapers in 1966 before becoming editor. Both Timeses were owned by the Thomson company then, long before Murdoch took over.
The editorial board asked him: “How independent will you be as editor?… What is your attitude to the Thomson commercial interests?…Even if it is news adverse to the Thomson interests, say in travel?” In response Evans said he would print anything, regardless of any embarrassment to the paper’s owners. Evans writes:
The directors spent a full hour examining my halo as someone who would embrace and defend the freedoms defined in the Monopolies Commission report [which required the paper to be editorially independent], not to sell out to Mammon or twist the news for a political agenda.
Looking back at what at the commitments demanded, I can’t help but wonder at how much journalism has changed.
From 1966, to 2010 – where The Sunday Times and its sister title are attempting to re-write the news economics rulebook by charging readers to read previously free content online, which in my opinion is part of a global push across Rupert Murdoch’s media empire to reverse advertising pressures driven in large part by the competitive efficiencies of search engines.
…Cheryl barely reads any press, so she can’t say if she was surprised by that, or the furore over her having hair extensions and yet being the face of L’Oréal Elvive Full Restore 5 Replenishing Shampoo…
…And with that, ever the charming professional, she mentions the lip-gloss colour she’s created for L’Oréal Paris and the limited-edition Elnett hairspray that will have a sketch of her face on the can (the first time in the product’s history). “It’s amazing. I can’t believe it.”
Was the Cole interview granted in return for giving a cosmetics brand several mentions? L’Oréal is an important advertising client for national newspapers and it paid for a full-page ad opposite the ST piece.
I don’t know if the two are linked. But if the paper trade wants to convince the cynical digital generation that its content is worth paying for, it will have to seperate its commercial and editorial interests for good. You can’t sell content that has already been sold.
This is cross-posted from the Frontline Club’s Forum blog, which I write for and look after as part of my work there. It’s relevent to things I generally write about here so I thought I’d share. The pic is by talented Frontline member Chris King
One way to boost newspaper revenues as print circulation and advertising revenues fall through the floor is to charge readers to read stuff online. The only problem is: will a generation that has grown up with free news content – that believes in a free web – cough up for it?
One man who hopes so it Gurtej Sandhu, digital director of Times Newspapers, which next week launches paid-for, fully paywalled online versions of The Times and The Sunday Times (see previews here) after many months of preparation.
“We’re one of the first general [interest] newspapers to do this,” says Sandhu. He said that The Times – which has just laid off around 10 percent of its editorial staff (via Guardian.co.uk) through voluntary job cuts – is “in a position where we have to do something”. Some papers have tried the paywall route and turned back, such as the New York Times which charged for its online comment section and built up some 250,000 subscribers only to bring the paywall down after complaints from columnists and readers. They chickened out when they should have held firm, says Sandhu:
I think the New York Times blinked when they shouldn’t have done. It was 250,000 people, that’s a significant amount; they didn’t really fail… The ad market boomed and suddenly they felt the revenue they could generate from the ad market was far more substantial.”
He also had a few words for The Times’s free content-loving rival Guardian News & Media: “The sense is that people are downloading the Guardian iPhone app and not buying the newspaper edition – it’s not an insignificant number and they only pay for it once.” Having said that, Sandhu isn’t that bothered whether people read Times content via the print, desktop or mobile versions – as long as they pay. “We’re starting a journey… will it matter in the long run whether it’s a digital edition, mobile or newspaper? It’s all readership to us.”
And the loss of readers that will come from lowering the credit card drawbridge on Times Online? Sunday Times editor John Witherow reckons (via paidContent:UK) that as many as 90 percent of readers could go elsewhere. Sandhu: “We don’t see that as a permenent postition; we believe we will generate more revenue through doing this.”
I recommend checking our video from about 1 hour 10 minutes to get a feeling of just how hostile our audience was to the paywall plans. Perhaps it’s not the most representative focus group, but if this was a flavour of what people think, the plan could have a rocky road ahead.
Also on the panel was Marybeth Christie, head of product developement at FT.com – a business that has met with some success charging readers of news and data, albeit a highly targeted professional, business audience. Some 126,000 users happily part with £170 and more for breaking news, company data, the Lex column and the use of the FT’s mobile apps (including, yes, the iPad). “The advantage of the metered model is that we know what our users want,” she said. “Those that find it most useful, our more engaged users, don’t mind paying because they like us.”
Pushed by moderator Steve Hewlett to reveal how many corporate subscribers FT.com has – a market consumer papers like The Times won’t be able tap in nearly the same way - she said it was “less than half”. And does a paywall hurt advertising? Not at all: “It has not hurt our ad revenues, quite the opposite. Because we have so many registered users, we now have more data on them and we can pass that on to advertisers.”
Ewan MacLeod, editor and founder of Mobile Industry Review has first-hand experience of going from free to paid-for. His well-respected site for mobile industry professionals regularly clocks up 250,000 readers a month, sometimes as many as one million, and in March last year it was “bought out” by another company (I covered the story for PCUK) and went subscription-only for the steep price of £1,000 a year. “How many subscribers did I get? None. Nada. Not one,” says McLeod whose site is now free-to-air again.
Here’s a flavour of what people were saying on Twitter:
The latest accounts to be released from Rupert Murdoch‘s News International, covering the 52 weeks to June 28 2009, say much about the company’s content propaganda.
News Group Newspapers, the division that publishes market leading red-tops The Sun and News of the World, made pre-tax profits of £40.3m for the year – that’s 10 percent down year on year and not a bad performance considering the profit drop of various rivals. Revenue falls by £8.4m to £617.9m (Arif at Mediaweek has more on the nuts and bolts).