The news that Sydney Morning Herald reporter and columnist Annabel Crabb will not be renewing her contract and will instead move to work at the ABC opens up another interesting area of conversation in the subscription based online media discussion, the role of public broadcasters.
There’s a long tradition in the Australian broadcast media of journalists earning their chops at the ABC before being poached by commercial broadcasters where bigger budgets allow them to cash in. Sometimes they stay in the commercial world, while occasionally they return either to Auntie or SBS to do some more public service. Annabel Crabb’s defection to the ABC is interesting because not only did she begin her career in commercial media, but she is primarily a print journalist. Although ABC online provides an enormous amount of news content, it is almost all leveraged off of the TV and radio networks, with the text in stories often quite close to being a transcript of a broadcast story.
The hiring of Crabb explicitly for the digital space is a bold sign that the ABC wants to bolster its online presence beyond simply providing a record of its traditional media. It is a timely development in the wake of James Murdoch’s much publicised criticism of the BBC’s impact in the online space, and raises the question whether we will see a similar attack on the ABC from News Corporation’s Australian arm should they try to encroach on the online space traditionally filled by newspaper content.
I argued yesterday that News Limited is in a position to build a successful online subscription business based on the breadth of content that it has access to, but what impact will public broadcasters have on that business in the Australian market? Is the ABC a threat to News’ online plans, or are their audiences different enough to make the public broadcaster irrelevant? And where does Fairfax fit into this discussion? Does the AB demographic that Fairfax has cherished for so many years make it vulnerable to having its audience move to the ABC when it institutes its own paywall?
Over to you.