Tim Dunlop, excellent blogger at B-sides, has written in The Drum about News Ltd’s paywall plans, and focused on The Australian and it’s partisanship. I quote
The Australian is ground zero for hardline, anti-Labor, so-called “campaigning” journalism, a position that has solidified since federal Labor came to power in 2007. This editorial disposition has made them a laughing stock amongst at least half the market for serious journalism that Simons is suggesting they are going to need to make the paywall pay.
In other words, The Australian’s overt partisanship – which has seen them not only turn Newspoll into a tool for generating anti-Labor stories but has also led them to offer possibly the worst coverage of climate change of any broadsheet in the Western world — has alienated a sizeable percentage of their potential audience.
If you are talking about a strategy for maximising the number people who will cough up – in perpetuity, week after week – money for your product, then The Australian’s partisanship is a losing strategy. In a market as small as Australia, trying to build a viable subscription base when you have spent a decade holding at least half your potential audience in utter contempt is going to be a tough ask.
I disagree with these conclusions. Don’t get me wrong – The Australian is a paper with many limitations. It is absurdly touchy and self-obsessed, it allows the personal vendettas and/or ignorance of senior staff to affect their content, and it publishes any old poorly-researched rubbish as it long as it represents the corporate line.
But these are criticisms of execution, not of strategy. As is widely acknowledged, straight reportage is becoming commodified. If news is a commodity, then the only hope for successful paid-for online content needs to exploit the commercial potential of added value – opinion, commentary, editorial. Having a clearly-defined editorial ‘brand’ will be crucial.
In these challenging times, the most successful ‘traditional’ media organisation of the past decade has been Fox News. They’ve also been the most overtly partisan. In the UK’s newspaper market, the papers best positioned for the future are those with the most clearly delineated editorial stances – The Daily Telegraph (upmarket Tory), Daily Mail (mid-market older Tory), Guardian (young and middle-aged upmarket progressive). The papers that are struggling are those like the Daily Mirror and Independent with positioning that’s harder to locate (The Independent is ‘independent’).
News Ltd’s Oz is right to try and capture the Liberal voting, older, affluent demographic – Managing Directors and Senior Partners, self-funded retirees, well-off small businessmen. Contrary to Tim Dunlop’s views, there are plenty of these people in Australia, and they have a tremendous value to advertisers, and large disposable income. But News Ltd just hasn’t targeted these people consistently. In my view, a lot of content the Oz chooses to major on is actually of little relevance to these people’s lives (~20 articles on Larissa Behrendt’s tweet? #Twitdef? Tim Flannery? ABC bias? Please), but I do think they hit the mark elsewhere – the mining tax being a great example, for better or worse (alright worse). They just need to do this more regularly, and hone their ‘news sense’. (Sometimes I almost suspect their content is driven by asking “what will annoy Twitter the most?”)
And yes, they should continue to ignore young, progressive tweeters, like me, who are well-served by Fairfax, the ABC and Crikey. And when the Oz goes behind a paywall, we’ll find it a lot easier to ignore the Oz. Everyone’s a winner!