Having a Business Model Is Not Enough

Google has announced that it will work to help companies, such as news producers like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, to limit the access that general readers and data aggregators such as Google have to their online content. Google’s statement (blog entry) opens up a new front in the Great Search for Newspaper Revenue: search engines. But I have the rotten feeling that the Search is more about business and less about an informed citizenry.

The amount of chips that Murdoch has allows him to play his hand strongly. Plus, like him or not, he is the media industry’s leading man, an innovator of product and policy. Just like Robert de Neufville wrote yesterday, there is no question that the newspaper industry needs a larger share of the media’s revenue stream. But making this conclusion assumes that media profits are the ultimate goal, the end of the journey. They are not.

I support Murdoch’s efforts to revitalize print, or at least the idea that good journalists should get paid fairly for their work, but his plan for what to do with revenue money is—Fox News. Earlier today Murdoch compared newspapers to restaurants saying, “If we fail, we fail like a restaurant that makes meals on one wants to eat.”

This might be true in lean countries like Bangladesh, but given the opportunity to satiate their own desires, Americans have become the fattest people on the planet. We take our burgers with a side of Fox News and People Magazine.

Enter the champion of the left with its drive for sustainable and responsible reporting, right? Wrong. The Huffington Post, representing both the modern media and center-left politics, makes a convincing portrayal of the lazy, free-loading liberal—Birkenstocks, joints, etc.

On some kind of rant, Arianna Huffington barely veils the fact that her $10m a year business depends on getting its content for free. Meanwhile, she can plug whatever multinational that comes knocking without paying her writers and it’s all justified because it’s a “sustainable business model”.

I support Murdoch in taking back the news business, which is not an anachronism. It’s not a matter of preferring the typewriter to the computer, or the horse-and-carriage to the car, unless we admit that the cars are using horse flesh for fuel. Save the horses!


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