Rupert Murdoch Separates his Media Empire
With the announcement that Rupert Murdoch and his senior lieutenants at News Corporation are planning to separate the giant media company into two slightly lesser, giant media companies — one company which will retain the entertainment assets and the other which retain the publishing assets — it’s hard not to reflect on the current state of the publishing business.
Murdoch, for whatever you think about his politics, is an old-fashioned newspaper man. After all, he grew his company and his enormous wealth through the newspaper publishing business. And by all accounts he still reflects fondly on the idea of owning newspapers, knowing that ownership of papers today is certainly not for increasing shareholder value; the only justification is for public good.
Therefore, because of the rationale behind News Corp’s announcement — that the publishing business was simply weighing down the entertainment business, the company’s profit center, and therefore must be expunged in order to increase shareholder value — it’s hard for any remaining hold outs to argue that newspapers, in their current form, are a dying business.
Most columns about the changing of the newspaper business, i.e. the laying off of thousands of journalists around the world, tend to focus on the romantic ideals of a former time (but conveniently skipping memories of yellow journalism and other shameful moments of the craft’s history). They also tend to be written by journalism school graduates with their internal biases.
The perspective of the Dignified Devil or, more accurately, the perspective of this piece written by a graduate of a top journalism program, former employee of major news outlets and avid consumer of news, begs to differ (there is likely disagreement in this opinion within the DD compound). The reality is that the world no longer has a need for two or three competing newspapers within every major metro area. In fact, an argument could be made that the U.S. doesn’t need more than the top three or four papers that currently exist (The New York Times for the informed reader, The Wall Street Journal for those that need water cooler conversation within Fortune 500 companies, The Washington Post for those that need water cooler conversation around the halls of Congress, and USA Today for everyone else).
There are two primary reasons to defend this position:
1. For those readers that may not be aware, the vast majority of content that you read — even in the newspapers listed above, as well as other major, respected outlets in the U.S. and abroad — comes from services and companies such as the Associated Press, Reuters, Knight Ridder and others. In fact, pick up a copy of The Arizona Republic and the Minneapolis Star Tribune and you’ll find many articles verbatim as they appear in The New York Times. While this is not a new phenomenon, the advent of the Internet is. Distribution costs to send content through the Internet are as close to zero as they have ever been. What’s the point of having the same national news printed in a state paper and a well-respected national paper like the Times?
2. But what about local content? Who is going to write those breaking stories about corruption at the local level? Welcome to the world of blogging. We’ve got plenty of those. Many of the popular blogs end up sending their content feeds to national papers, anyway, so there’s still the possibility of having a local story reach national attention (Trayvon Martin, for example. Or, in a much less serious case, a small town journalist’s review of the grand opening of a local Olive Garden.
The unfortunate part is, as mentioned earlier, the layoffs. There’s no good way to spin this — many people are going to lose their jobs. With that said, if they turned to blogging there’s a good chance they could displace a lot of the crap that’s being written out there, now (and probably make more money than while employed at a major news outlet).