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Murdoch says journalism's future is 'more promising than ever,' but rails against Web 'theft'

December 1, 2009 | 12:52 pm
Murdoch
Murdoch speaking at the FTC event. Credit: FTC Web site.
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch continued his campaign today to style the digital news media according to his for-pay vision, declaring he was optimistic about journalism's future, but added that in that future, consumers would no longer have free access to expensive news content.

"The future of journalism is more promising than ever, limited only by editors and producers unwilling to fight for their readers and viewers, or government using its heavy hand either to over-regulate or to subsidize," Murdoch said at a meeting at the Federal Trade Commission.

But, he said, "we need to do a better job of persuading consumers that high-quality, reliable news and information do not come free.  Good journalism is an expensive commodity."

One of many newspapers executives and industry observer's to speak at the FTC today, Murdoch used his speech to outline a three-part mandate for newspapers wishing to survive: deliver content to consumers via every possible medium, digital and physical; get them used to the idea that they'll have to pay; and continue agitating for media deregulation.

But the question of whether newspapers should charge online readers has continued to be the most controversial.  For decades, newspapers have made fat profits from print advertisers eager to reach a daily audience.  The problem, said Murdoch, is that "the old business model, based on advertising only, is dead."

"The reason is simple arithmetic: Though online advertising is increasing, the increase is only a fraction of what is being lost from print advertising. That is not going to change, even in a boom."

That's because the in-print classified advertising market upon which newspapers relied has been "decimated" by Web competitors such as Craigslist and Monster.com, Murdoch said.

But Murdoch saved his strongest words for the companies that aggregate news -- Google Inc. among them -- in a now-familiar accusation.

"There are those who think they have a right to take our news content and use it for their own purposes without contributing a penny to its production.  Some rewrite -- at times without attribution -- the news stories of expensive and distinguished journalists who invested days, weeks, or even months on their stories -- all under the tattered veil of fair use." 

"Their almost wholesale misappropriation of our stories is not fair use -- to be impolite, it's theft."

-- David Sarno

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