Editorial: Rupert Murdoch hates the Internet

In an interview on Rupert Murdoch-owned Sky News Network in Britain, Murdoch was quoted as saying that news aggregation services were “plagiarists” and that he would remove his print media publications from Google once he erected a pay barrier to prevent the unwashed proles from accessing his site.

Outside of the more amusingly cantankerous aspects of the plan — removing the Wall Street Journal from Google would remove up to 25 per cent of the site’s overall traffic according to PC World Magazine — it shows the dangerously backward thinking of old media. It also sets a dangerous precedent for print media to further prove its irrelevance in the new digital economy.

Simply put, Murdoch is the definition of wrongheaded on this issue. His bluster belies a very cynical point — that the news media should only be given to those able to shill out massive amounts of money for an inferior product. Google and its news service offer a low-cost alternative, providing a great ability to be informed about a range of topics from a multitude of sources.

As more and more people get their news from the net — a January 5th New York Times report stated that 40 per cent of people get their information online, as opposed to 35 per cent from newspapers — removing Google and erecting a paywall to prevent anyone but subscribers from reading these papers will only make people move to other sources.

While there’s potential for the paying visitors to outweigh the ad revenue generated from clickthroughs generated from Google visitors, it does show an unflinching disregard for enticing new readers. Murdoch believes these methods will create a loyal readership — in fact, people will just turn to other news sources. This is old print media thinking, and as shown by the dying journalism industry, it doesn’t work.

What’s more, calling Google a bunch of “plagiarists” shows a startling disrespect for the concept of fair use. In fact, he stated on Sky News that fair use was “illegal” and that one good court case could abolish it. Quite simply, this is an impressively elitist attitude that shows what Murdoch thinks of the journalism industry: it should be closed off and secretive, only offering its erudition to those who can afford it. Instead of embracing visitors and developing content that makes them want to click through to the advertisements, Murdoch wants to close everything off.

The future of journalism is in the new digital economy. Great investigative news sites like Talking Points Memo, Salon and Slate have managed to function well on the ‘net. Even pop culture omnibus site IGN uses a mixed model for their site: subscriptions and ad revenue. Yet Murdoch is still trapped in the old ways of thinking — restricting access to those who can pay.

Like Slate found in 1998, subscriptions will be sluggish when moving to a primarily subscription-based model. It hasn’t saved the dead tree publications — it won’t save Murdoch’s dead tree web sites either. But Murdoch will still be out there, grumbling about those damn dirty kids getting off his lawn.

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