Murdoch’s Howler

You never can tell what strange verbal formulations will emanate from the mouths of babes or wizened, septuagenarian media magnates.

Rupert Murdoch, chairman and CEO of media empire News Corp., today told a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) workshop on the state of journalism that media organizations, if they are to thrive in the digital age, must persuade consumers to pay for news content online.

In of itself, that pronouncement might not rate as particularly newsworthy. We know that news-media organizations must adapt their business models to endure in an age of digital distribution, though there’s some debate as to whether that should be done primarily through online advertising or through subscription-based, reader-pay models. In my view, tapped-out consumers already pay to get on the Internet, and they will be passionately disinclined to cough up content tolls to every online publisher with an outstretched hand.

Murdoch’s howler, though, came in his justification for seeking money directly from his readers rather than from advertisers. The Australian media baron said online publishers must charge for their content because “good journalism is an expensive commodity.”

I consider myself a tolerant soul, but I must call bullshit when I see it. Good journalism? From News Corp? This coming from the philistines who bring us the UK’s Sun and News of the World, not to mention the New York Post? From the man whose publishing empire cheapened the UK’s Times and has rubbished the quality of the Wall Street Journal?

To paraphrase Martin Amis from his novel “Money”: Are Rupert’s publications, online or otherwise, any way to interpret the world?

Cripes, Rupert, why not just admit you’re a greedy sod who wants more money? That would at least have the virtue of honesty, and a certain twisted integrity. Don’t justify your grasping for our coin on the basis of “quality journalism.” You wouldn’t know good journalism if it hit you in the head in the form of a rolled-up newspaper — maybe a copy of the Wall Street Journal before you desecrated it.

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