Here’s The Australian‘s editorial today.

Old media, by Crikey

Newspapers will prosper long after e-scandal sheets are gone.

AS News Limited’s John Hartigan delivered a speech in Canberra on Wednesday, online news site Crikey’s Canberra correspondent, Bernard Keane, responded on Twitter. There was no faulting Keane for caustic commentary or brevity, given Twitter can only accommodate messages of 140 characters. But as a news report of what Mr Hartigan had to say, or even as considered opinion, it was electronic ephemera. It was light on for facts and awash with anger that Mr Hartigan, CEO of the company that publishes The Australian, dared to predict a positive future for the print media. It was a case of all the news that is fit to fabricate and it explained why newspapers will survive while parasitical publications like Crikey will come and go. Crikey’s editor, former Age journalist Jonathan Green, may not like this situation, but he obviously understands how much he needs newspapers. In common with the generality of online news outlets, Crikey would not exist without the papers its writers affect to despise. Every morning it includes many links to the websites of real newspapers. The only original content Crikey’s writers often offer are rants about what they read in The Australian.

Crikey, and its many peers in the US and Britain, are not newspapers. Rather, they are the work of small groups of passionate people with big barrows to push. In contrast, great newspapers, and their websites, are professional products staffed by men and women who combine deep knowledge of specific subjects with a talent for finding and reporting facts. Their work, rather than ink on paper, is the lifeblood of their publications. Their writing is the reason The Australian’s circulation is increasing and why News Limited mastheads are making money, despite declines in advertising income. Certainly, newspapers in the US are in trouble. But this is because of bad business models and editorial approaches. The Chicago Tribune is burdened by debt and The New York Times is deadly dull. Even in the US, newspapers that invest in quality can make money, demonstrated by the success of The Australian’s sister publication, The Wall Street Journal. Certainly, the internet has reshaped the news media but the losers took their audiences for granted. There are more free-to-air TV channels in trouble than well-run newspapers. And even online, nobody has worked out how to turn a profit from products many people adore, but will not pay for – including MySpace, also owned by The Australian’s parent company, or even Crikey.

Crikey sells itself as the future of serious journalism, but it isn’t. It does not break big stories. It does not send reporters around the world. It does not analyse policy in detail. And too often it escapes the laws on defamation and the scrutiny of the Press Council. Crikey is what newspapers were in the 18th century, a small-circulation propaganda sheet, read by people less interested in news and debate than having their prejudices confirmed.


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