Fairfax Revolution To Change The Way We Read Our News

Yesterday Fairfax media announced major changed to their newspaper business that will see the media company focus more on digital media. This will see them change the format of their broadsheet paper into a smaller, tabloid style of paper and will see around 1,800 employees made redundant.

From a business point of view, this is a move Fairfax had to make and could make it easier to search free public records. It does however opens a window on to the struggles that traditional media formats face in the internet age and the flow on effects to the people that gather the news we read, the journalists.

I’ve said many times of this web site that in the print media, there seems to be two types of journalists that you see.

The first group are the real journalists. These people have a gift, a skill. It is not just something you get after doing a journalism course, it is almost an instinct to get to the meat of a story that most people didn’t even know what happening.

I personally don’t think too many of the real journalists will suffer as we see this revolution in the media take place. After all, these people break the big stories and a big story can make a lot of money for a newspaper.

The second group of journalists are who I like to categorize as content generators. They are good writers, make no mistake about that. However this group tend to write stories that are far from hard hitting. They are the type of journalists that will write about a player coming off contract, talk to his manager, and feel like they have got some sort of scoop when the fact is, a smoking monkey could do the same thing.

I think these are the people that you will see take a big hit as newspapers look to streamline their business.

Recently Fairfax flagged a move to send a number of jobs to New Zealand in an effort to cut costs. This saw journalists at Fairfax go on strike. It also showed how modern media has changed. If you can pay less for a New Zealand journalist to provide the content generation of the second group of writers, it makes sense to do so.

Real journalism will never be replaced. Those mass content generators though, hell, anyone could do that. You just need to outsource that work to cut costs, it makes good business sense.

From a Rugby League fans point of view, it will be interesting to see how pay walls effect the Rugby League news cycle.

For well over a decade now I have waited for news stories to be posted online on news web sites and by 12:30am I’m usually up to date on all the news that is sure to be a talking point the following day. A lost of this news is the sort of thing I don’t pay too much attention too. Every so often though there is a big story that you know will be a major talking point for the next few days, and that is always very exciting to see.

There are two things that have stood out in the Rugby League news cycle for me.

The first was the proliferation of Rugby League sites that simply stole news content from the likes of the Daily Telegraph and Sydney Morning Herald, posted this news on their own sites as though they had generated it, and did this on a massive scale to the point where some of these sites are made up of 99% of other peoples work.

That is flat out stealing, and it has hurt the newspaper business. Before the internet, you had to buy a paper to read the news. Now you can just as easily go to web sites from out of bedrooms where the content is all copied and pasted from real news web sites.

The second thing that stood out for me was the move from real news to reaction generating news. The use of what I like to call “False Outrage” has become a major hook for media companies. Light a spark and watch people work themselves into a frenzy about a subject that, in reality, they really don’t care too much about. It is a form of entertainment at the end of the day and we have all engaged in it in some capacity.

A well written, well researched news item about the financial plight of a Rugby League club will not generate the same number of hits online as say the latest story regarding Sonny Bill Williams fighting another shelf stacker from an Auckland supermarket. Looking at it from a business point of view, if you have a really good story that generates less hits to your site, and you know that you can generate five times the traffic with a reactionary piece that takes little to no effort to write….you’re going to want that extra traffic because at the end of the day, that is what pays the bills and keeps you in a job.

That sort of change in the media will have an impact on true journalism. You can see that now where some very experience Rugby League journalists boast about the “gossip” columns they write or that feature stories about which players have the bests hairstyles.

To generate more money, Fairfax has said they will look to introduce a pay wall to their Sydney Morning Herald and The Age web sites. I’ve always been fascinated by the switch to a pay wall system for most web sites because in my opinion, they don’t work.

There is just too much free news out there, especially these days with social media. I often think some journalists must leave news conferences some times, check Twitter or Facebook and are in shock that what they attended the news conference for is already out and effectively “old news” by the time they write about it in a full, fleshed out way.

Personally, I wouldn’t pay to read news online. The major reason for this is because I’m cheap. You need to remember though that, any story that I consider to be interesting, it is likely to be carried by other news services anyway such as Fox Sports News.

When you consider that, 95% of news is “old news” by the time it is written up in a news paper, and that any major story will be carried by other media through the course of a day, the need to pay just isn’t there for me. That is my personal opinion, you might well think it is well worth paying for. It just comes down to the individual.

I personally think the way to go is to pack as much advertising onto a site as you can. That way you keep traffic levels high, you’re not turning away your customers and you are pushed to offer a wide range of content and features that people will keep hitting your site to get.

That is a lot easier said than done though.

We have seen newspaper companies dabble with changes to their traditional business models, but now, Fairfax has gone all in. It is going to be very interesting to see how it works out. You can be sure that if it is even slightly successful, we will see all of our news providers locked behind pay walls. Many feel this will be a bad thing, but if it means the onus is then on news companies to generate higher quality content, who knows, it may end up being a better thing in the long run.

I feel sorry for the real journalists this will effect. I feel sorry for young people who are currently doing studies with a view to break into journalism as a career option. I don’t feel sorry for the hacks that call up player managers fishing for a cheap and nasty story about players who are coming off contract at the end of the 2013 season.

As Bob Dylan once sang “the times, they are a changing”. I wonder if he owns an iPad?

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