The world is full of idiots, and someone needs to point it out to them or they will never know.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Newspapers: Going, going... wait, still here

There's something that I heard quite a bit about during my undergraduate degree at uni, and that's the death of newspapers and "free" online news. On the 5th of April this year, Media Watch did a special episode on the issue, discussing what a bunch of news outlets are going to do (yes, I watch Media Watch. Hello, ladies).

But, really, let me put it simply: charging people for news online will never work. Ever.

To begin with, why do they need to charge you anyway? Last I checked, The Courier Mail makes its money off advertisements, not the tiny amount people pay for the paper. Why not just charge more for ads online? And, come to think of it, there's a paper that makes its money solely off advertising - heard of it?

Honestly, if News Limited can afford a free, daily, printed newspaper, how can they realistically expect us to pay for news online? Yeah, I know the quality of articles in Mx isn't exactly amazing (still better than The Courier Mail, though), but you see the point I'm making.

I also wonder why they put it online for free in the first place. Did they think we'd get hooked or something, and be so amazed by their journalistic skills that we'd donate our money? They've backed themselves into a corner here, 'cause once news.com.au starts charging, what's to stop us getting our news from abc.net.au/news or sbs.com.au/news - sites that will always, always be free?

"Journalistic standards!" I hear you cry. "The folks at the ABC/SBS are all left-wing!" (or right-wing, or they don't have enough stories about lizards on bicycles, or whatever excuse you have for not using the public broadcasters). Well, okay, say you desperately, desperately want some commercial news, will you pay for it? Will millions of people sign up and fork over millions of dollars?

No. Piracy on the internet is pretty staggering already - music being the obvious example - but the news outlets want you to pay for simple text? The easiest possible thing to distribute digitally, and they expect us to pay for it? And I guarantee you that sites like this will pop up more and more once the commercial news providers start charging (yes, I'm aware Bugmenot doesn't give passwords for pay sites, but I'm sure there are plenty out there that do. I picked a nice, legal one for my example, because I of course do not endorse piracy).

But you know what? I think newspapers aren't going anywhere soon. "Experts" are constantly predicting the death of forms of media. For example:
  • Radio comes out. The death of books is predicted.
  • Film comes out. The death of radio is predicted.
  • Television (and, later, VCRs) are introduced. The death of cinema is expected soon.
  • Computers are in every household. Television looks to be on the way out.
And we all know that books, radio, film and television are all dead... oh wait. Admittedly, radio has changed significantly from what it was in the early twentieth century, but it's still a big business area that employs thousands of people.

I really, really doubt free news on the internet spells the end of high-quality journalism. as Rupert Murdoch is so quick to claim. If anything, it might spell the end of low quality journalism. Think about it. People will easily be able to get their news from another source if their current one is crap. In Brisbane, The Courier Mail is the only daily newspaper, and it's pretty much complete garbage. But, online, I can get much better news coverage, for free, elsewhere. I could go on about the economics of it all but the simple fact is people love free stuff, and as long as we expect to get news for free, we'll get it for free.

© 2010 by The Free Man

UPDATE 17/7/15: Yes, I am aware that Mx is no longer being printed, but I stand by my points above - charging people for news is not going to work as long as they can get it for free.