Rupert Murdoch is out to change the internet and he’s putting professional content at the centre of the battle.
Except it’s all been talk so far, and very little of it carries much weight.
The last couple of weeks have seen several news reports highlighting interesting trends in the world of professional content. All of them involving our well-meaning and altruistic friend Rupert. First, he announced that he’s planning to put all of his media properties behind a pay-wall, meaning that you have to pay to access the content. “Quality journalism is not cheap” apparently, although we are talking about The Sun newspaper and Fox Television, amongst others.
Next, Rupert announced that he was considering preventing content from his stable of newspapers, which includes The Times and the Wall Street Journal, from appearing in Google’s News Search service.
It all amounts to a bold statement about the value of professional content. It’s a statement that should be made; it’s just that Rupert makes a hash of it.
The idea of paying for content on the internet isn’t new. The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal already keep their most valuable content set aside for subscribers. The same is true for The Economist, one of the few publications thriving in the new media world. Most academic journals can only be accessed through a variety of subscription services or a visit to a library (which, incidentally, we all pay for).
The question is, what sets these sources of information aside from the likes of a traditional newspaper, like The Sun or The Telegraph, or user generated content like Wikipedia? Why are we willing to pay for them? The answer is the quality and the time it saves.
It takes a lot of time to chase down accurate information, verify it and then explain it in a way that is meaningful to the reader. Time that generalist journalists are unable to take, which is why we get stupid stories about ‘superfoods’.
There’s plenty of good quality content out there if you know where to find it. Wikipedia is one of the first places I look if I have a scientific or historical query. But the key is that it’s the first place I look, not the only. The truth is that there are often errors, or the entries are written by someone with a bias. In addition, there are plenty of subjects where the quality on Wikipedia isn’t very good.
It’s one of the best, if not the best, quick reference tools out there. I just wouldn’t stake my reputation or my job on anything written in it.
The same is true, but even more so, with newspapers. They’re good at some things, like celebrity gossip and political stories/opinions. However, they are hopeless at others. When it comes to health, economics, business or anything technical, you’re better of with a blog by someone you can trust.
The fact is, so desperate are they to get the news quickly, they don’t bother to check the facts. The vast majority of stories you read in newspapers are generated from press releases by people with an agenda. That’s quite simply not a source of information we should be trusting.
I trust Wikipedia to be a good starting point for information, sometimes, but if it’s something important I’ll check the references or go somewhere else. I trust the newspapers to to report what’s happening in the world but I’ll assume that they’re biased and their reporting is cursory.
Most of all though, I’ll trust blogs, journals, publishers and people who I know really know their stuff. They’ll have first hand experience, or will have carried out thorough research and asked all the questions that I know I’d ask. That’s the value of truly professional content – someone’s done the work that you would have needed to do anyway. And that’s the value of trust.