August 2009

Last night, in honor of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, looked up some footage of the performers on YouTube. I started with the last on the set list, Jimi Hendrix, and clicked on “Voodoo Child.” About 15 seconds into the song, something happened that jolted me back into reality and into recognizing the true singularity that was Woodstock:

a Google Ad popped up. Buy this MP3 from Amazon, it urged.


I encourage everyone who reads this to take a minute and watch some of the footage of that magnificent event 40 years ago. I especially recommend this to those of you in my age group (20-25) who have an utterly different definition of what music is. (I don’t mean this as an insult, but as a challenge to modern notion of popular music. No Birthday Sex here, folks.) If you want to try and bypass the ads, check out Country Joe McDonald and the “Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-To-Die Rag.” Before the song, he leads the crowd of half a million in a cheer of, well, you’ll see.

Well, someone finally did it. Someone finally had the balls to put an end to the public mooching the news off the Internet for free. I never thought my fingers would dance across the keys in this order:

Thank you, Rupert Murdoch.

The Rup

Boy, that was weird. Anyway.  While Murdoch may not be the sexiest media mogul in the world (that honor goes to Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone; GRRR,) but he is a pretty deft businessman. And this is risky. Very. Very. Risky. Most certainly, web traffic to NewsCorp-owned sites will drop, along with, logically, ad revenue. And when all his news content is locked up and reserved for paying customers, the question is whether the public will chose to pay for the slant information they prefer, or get the proverbial milk or free.

Murdoch has voluntarily become the guinea pig for a change that may be necessary to bolster so many failing newspapers. They will be quietly taking notes in the corner, praying that works. If the attempt is successful, you can be certain that, at least, all the major market papers will throw up the wall to their online sites faster than you can say “newspaper death watch.” It will be a hard blow to the industry if it doesn’t. This is the ace up that’s been up sleeve for the last few years.

I admit this is an unusually stance for me to take for several reasons:

1.) It had me talking favorably about Rupert Murdoch/NewsCorp.

2.) I am championing corporate greed.

3.) The implementation of such a system will be an affront to the basic concept of journalism servicing the dissemination of information for the good of public knowledge.

But understand that I am viewing this story from the eyes of an unemployed journalist. I—and the rest of the graduating journalism classes of 2009—have for the past three months been reminded constantly by not only our family and friends, but by countless media outlets that the degree we spent a vomitable amount of money on is proving to be worthless. I know this is cynical, but this is how my frustration comes out: bitchy quips.

So of course I’m going to be in favor of a system that could potentially turn the news industry around and make it a profitable business again. And to those with bright, optimistic eyes still pointed to the future, I’m sorry for any offense and welcome your comments, rebuttals, etc.

The Rupe has been slim with the details of the plan, such as how much access will cost or how it the changeover will be implemented. I’m going to assume that subcribers to newspapers or magazines will automatically be granted access to sister sites. NewsCorp actually already has implemented the pay-for-play model on Right now, my subscription to the (tangiable) The Wall Street Journal allows me to access parts of the online version for free that nonsubscribers must pay for. (Technically, it’s a family subscripton. I wouldn’t pay $300 per year to read an editorial by Karl Rove about his annual reading race with the former President. But I will absolutely whore off that subscription if I want to read about the economy.) From what I hear, this has been reasonably profitable, probably because WSJ  is such a well-respected publication. Should they expect similar numbers from the Post? How much will soccer moms and amateur fashionistas shell out to read Page Six from their living room in Madison, WI?

NewsCorp has a year to get their shit together. Innovative strategies should be carried out, emphasis be put on branding, and new business models (not of the Page 3 kind) introduced. Because next year, when the padlocks go on, question will be whether papers like The New York Post, The Wall Street JournalThe Times (UK), and The Sun (UK) have more than news to offer their readers.

Because I hear they can get that for free on the Internet.


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