News Ltd boss John Hartigan has given a keynote address attacking websites such as Mumbrella and Crikey, while insisting that newspapers have a bright future.
In a speech to the National Press Club this afternoon, the CEO of News Ltd – who famously began his 2007 Andrew Olle Media Lecture: “My name is John Kenneth Hartigan. Occupation: journalist” took a different tack, beginning:
“My name is Pollyanna.
“I’m here to tell you about the bright future facing journalists, particularly newspaper journalists.
“I realise my proposition is wildly out of whack with accepted wisdom – that we are doomed.”
But he continued: “It’s true we are in the midst of the most traumatic and uncertain transformation in our history. But I see some strong and encouraging trends for the future. Newspapers can adjust to the digital age, adapt their business models and continue to reach mass audiences. What it will take is a complete rethink of the very essence of what is “news”. We have never been challenged as we are now, to justify why someone should pay for our content.”
He insisted that newspapers in Australia are still in strong commercial shape. He said: “Newspaper ad revenue in Australia has been growing – not declining over the past five years as it has in the US and the UK. Even in the past year, the decline in ad revenue in Australia is a fraction of what’s been happening overseas.
“The whole structure of our industry is different – we are far less reliant on classifieds. In the UK there are simply too many newspapers. In the US, newspapers haven’t kept up with television as a source of news, especially local news.”
But he said that his parent company News Corp was also investing in online journalism including the Wall Street Journal.
He said: “Obviously plenty of people are reading journalism online. But is it any good and what will make people pay for it? In fact the only ones making serious money are the sites that aggregate news, like Google and Yahoo. They pay nothing for content produced by newspaper journalists but make money by supplying it in easily searchable forms online. The major media outlets have encouraged them to take a free ride on our content. It’s called search engine optimisation.”
He then turned his attention to Crikey and Mumbrella. He told the audience:
“Then there are the news commentary sites, like The Huffington Post, Newser and the Daily Beast and in Australia sites like Crikey and Mumbrella.
“Most of the content on these sites is commentary and opinion on media coverage produced by the major outlets.
“These sites are covered in links to wire stories or mainstream mastheads. Typically, less than 10% of their content is original reporting.”
“Almost anyone can start one of these sites, with very little capital, no training or qualifications.
“Then there are the bloggers. In return for their free content, we pretty much get what we’ve paid for – something of such limited intellectual value as to be barely discernible from massive ignorance.”
“Like Keating’s famous “all tip and no iceberg”, it could be said that the blogosphere is all eyeballs and no insight.”
In another sideways reference to Mumbrella, he said: “Radical sweeping statements unsubstantiated with evidence are common. One Australian blogger who shoots first and checks facts later is proud to boast that his site is “Not wrong for long”.
Mumbrella editor Tim Burrowes has used that phrase on two occasions in the comments section of Mumbrella.
Hartigan concluded: “The internet is not the enemy of newspapers. It is a medium on which great journalism can reach a larger audience. The willingness of readers to pay for it will depend on the quality of the content.”