When Rupert Murdoch began to wage his war with news aggregators like Google, media critics called it either stupid, daring, or both. But with the long-standing debate about pay walls inevitably leading to discussion about Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal site, actions speak louder than words, and the newspaper industry has begun to fall in line behind the media mogul.
The most recent example of this would be The New York Times‘ announcement last week that it would be erecting a metered pay wall for its Web site next year. Other newspapers like The Financial Times and Newsday also charge for their sites, to differing levels of success.
But there’s at least one editor who still takes issue with both Murdoch and the concept of pay walls as they stand today: British newspaper The Guardian‘s editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger spoke out yesterday, slamming both the Australian media mogul and the theory behind paying for news on the Internet.
During a taped panel at the London College of Communication, Rusbridger argued that privatizing online content might make good business sense, but puts a publisher at odds with the human right for freedom of information.
“If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world.”
The Guardian editor also went on to attack Murdoch directly, calling his current business plan a complete 180 from his former ideology of London’s Fleet Street press:
“Murdoch, who has in his time flirted with free models and who has ruthlessly cut the price of his papers to below cost in order to win audiences or drive out competition…this same Rupert Murdoch is being very vocal in asserting that the reader must pay a proper sum for content — whether in print or digitally.”
But as fine and good as the idea of a free press is, who will pay for it? The consumers? The advertisers who abandoned papers and are now possibly just trickling back? The Guardian editor neatly side-stepped the issue by saying, “If you think about journalism, not business models, you can become rather excited about the future. If you only think about business models you can scare yourself into total paralysis.” That’s fine, until someone needs to actually pay the writers, printers and all the other employees that work for your publication.
Read More: Guardian editor hits back at paywalls –The Guardian
Financial Times’ paywall finally pays off –Editor’s Web Blog