Our favorite irascible media tyrant is in the news once again, and once again it’s time for me to bring you a story of doing one thing while wishing for another.
In a November 6th interview, Sky News Australia’s David Speers spent about 35 minutes with the CEO of NewsCorp, Rupert Murdoch; the conversation covering topics as diverse as software piracy, world economics, the role of Fox News (and Fox NewsPinion©) in American politics, a strange defense of Glenn Beck, and, not very long afterwards, an even stranger defense of immigration.
We have heard a lot about the…how can I put this politely…challenges Murdoch seems to face associating factual reality with his reality, and we could have lots of fun going through his factual misstatements—but instead, I want to take on one specific issue today:
Rupert Murdoch says he hates it when people steal his content from the Internet to draw readers to their sites…which is funny, if you think about it, because he has no problem at all stealing my content (and lots of yours, as well) for his sites.
(To begin, a quick note: all the Rupert Murdoch quotes you’ll see today came from the YouTube, specifically the Sky News Australia interview, which is there posted in its entirety. Although each quote presents Mr. Murdoch’s words exactly, they aren’t necessarily in their original order; that’s so we don’t go jumping around from topic to topic too much in this story. When that happens the quotes will be split into separate paragraphs, each with their own set of quotation marks. Words in italics were words Mr. Murdoch himself emphasized.)
David Speers began the interview by asking Murdoch about the concept of public access to free news content online:
“Well they shouldn’t have had it free all the time, I think we’ve been asleep, ar, and, it costs a lot of money to put together good newspapers, good content, and you know they’re very happy to pay for it when they’re buying a newspaper…and I think when they read it elsewhere they’re going to have to pay…”
And it’s not just the public, either. Murdoch is particularly incensed at the idea that one news organization would intentionally steal content from another:
“Well…the people who just simply pick up everything and run with it…and steal our stories, ahh, we say they steal our stories they just take them, ummm, without payment…”
“…if you look at them, most of their stuff is stolen from the newspapers now, and we’ll be suing them for copyright. Ummm, they’ll have to spend a lot more money on reporters, to cover the world…when they can’t steal from newspapers…”
Mr. Murdoch is, after all, running a business…but beyond that, he acknowledges that the News Corporation “experience” is also critical, and that creating that experience requires him to deploy top-notch talent.
For that reason he is dismissive of the suggestion that he might establish a free site augmented by a “premium” site that charges for…well, premium content:
“…there’s also, in in a newspaper, uh we got a newspaper, or a news service, there’s a thing called editorial judgment, there’s a thing called quality of writing, um, quality of reporting, and, ah just to say you know we’ll take what’s average stuff that comes from an agency and uh, not charge for that, it’s okay but I think you’re really degrading the whole experience if you do that…”
And this is the part of the story where I come in.
It was with great surprise that I heard Mr. Murdoch saying all this, because, for the longest time, Murdoch’s own newspaper, “The Wall Street Journal”, has been carrying my stories (along with hundreds of others daily) on their WSJ.com website. In fact, my most recent story, “On Determining Impact, Or, How Stimulative Is Stimulus?” ran on their site just a couple of days ago, on November 18th.
Now don’t get me wrong: in contrast to Mr. Murdoch, I like being carried in as many places as possible, even if I don’t always know about it, and I’m glad the WSJ likes the work, so I am surely not complaining…it’s just that I was surprised to discover that News Corporation’s editors, exercising on a regular basis what can only be considered fine judgment, had apparently recognized the “quality of writing, um, quality of reporting” that I bring to the table, and, in an effort to enhance the experience they provide their clientele, have been regularly posting that writing…and Mr. Murdoch hates news organizations that steal content…and yet, despite all that, News Corporation never seems to send me a check.
So, Rupert…where’s my money?
And what is the Rotten Tomatoes business model, exactly?
That would be to be the website that gathers movie reviews from a community of reviewers, posting them all in one space, and to use those reviews as the basis for the “Tomatometer” ratings they apply to movies…the Tomatometer being the central brand identity around which the entire franchise is built.
What’s not included in the business model?
Paying money for those reviews, a fact I was able to confirm after an exchange of email today with the folks at Rotten Tomatoes.
So, Rupert…where’s their money?
We could end this story right here, but there is one other quote from the Sky News interview that deserves to be put in the record, not only because it’s a comment on Murdoch’s view of the newspaper business, but also because it may be instructive as to how he views television as well:
“…people who have been buying papers for 20 years, um, even bad newspapers, it’s hard to see them, um…can’t stop buying all papers or even changing newspapers…”
(For the record, I attempted to obtain a comment for this story from Dan Berger, who is News Corporation’s primary press contact, but that effort was not successful as of the time this went to print.)
And with that, we come to the “wrap it up” part of the story:
Murdoch is quite upset at the idea that other news organizations will steal the stories that he invests time and effort and money into creating, and yet at the same time he’s absolutely dependent on acquiring content for his own sites that he doesn’t pay for—and my guess is that virtually every one of the people who have been providing him this content, myself included, are at least reasonably happy with the process that got us here…but we’d be even happier if he would get those checks out to us in time for a bit of extra Christmas shopping.
Oh, yeah, and one other thing: when it comes to news, Murdoch believes that brand loyalty is apparently capable of trumping quality of content in the eyes of at least some beholders…and in truth, I think he’s right.