Aug 11

PageOne: a good news story about news in New York

Somewhere around the middle of this past decade, the New York Times suffered a near-death experience.

The paper’s finances were shaky in the usual ways: print income was falling, digital revenue failing to compensate. A Mexican telephone tycoon lent a lot of money in exchange for an uncomfortably large stake in the company. Magazine profiles openly disrespectful of publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s abilities began appearing. Rupert Murdoch took over the Wall Street Journal and declared war on the Times’ hold on New York.

One media guru put the previously unsayable into print: that the Times might soon fold or be sold. (Even this blog has occasionally been a little snarky about the Grey Lady.)

And what happened? No newspaper dependent on those dropping print revenues is out of the wood yet, but things have looked up. The Journal has not broken through in New York and Murdoch and the News Corp hierarchy have phone-hacking lawsuits, trials and revelations to worry about. Reporters from the New York Times made a significant mark on the phone-hacking disclosures.

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Nov 10

No, not paywall: paygate

Stand by, some time in 2011, for another attempt to escape from the word “paywall”. As this blogpost about an address to staff by New York Times editor Bill Keller discloses, the preferred term will be “paygate”.

That is probably a shade better that paywall and is certainly snappier than the “metering system” that NYT executives have talked about so far. Or is it a little close to Watergate and every other “gate” that has followed?

I savour the image of the NYT as a rhinoceros, not to mention Keller’s feline bitchiness about the Wall Street Journal.


Oct 10

Ali Abdulemam in Bahrain: freedom of expression on trial where it really matters

In Europe and the US we revel in controversies over the slightest interference with journalists’ right to express themselves and worry about whether investigative journalism is declining. Spare a moment for places where the arguments haven’t ever been able to reach that stage.

Ali Abdulemam is a blogger in Bahrain. He went on trial today for “diffusing fabricated and malicious news on Bahrain’s internal situation to spread rumours and subvert the Kingdom’s security and stability.” He was arrested in early September and there has been a vigorous campaign for his release. He belonged to the admirable Global Voices Online network. There are excellent detailed pieces from the Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic.

A few years ago, it looked as if the tiny autocracies of the Gulf were starting finally to relax their powerful grip on politics and the media. Younger and more liberal members of ruling families were coming into positions of power. A profitable boom was producing the self-confidence to experiment, however cautiously, with a little openess.

With the economic crash, most of those gains have been reversed. Most strikingly in Bahrain, where the Sunni-Shia population balance has always been more precarious and potentially unstable than in the other Gulf states.

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Jun 10

Rupert’s hymn to Steve Jobs

The low subscription price being asked as of next month for The Times and Sunday Times sets some hard tasks for the papers’ owners in the future: raising the price involves raising the value seen by the subscriber. Or so I thought. Rupert Murdoch sees the working of a paywall quite differently. Cutting people off when they don’t pay may work for cable or satellite TV, but I’m less sure that it’ll work that way for newspaper sites. But what do I know?

One of the weird things about Murdoch’s reputation is that what he actually says – on the relatively rare occasions he’s interviewed – gets little attention. So the interview detail is worth the six minutes. Highlights: the Wall Street Journal should really be called “the Main Street Journal” (a soundbite which bears all the hallmarks of the WSJ’s editor Robert Thomson), publishers should charge for “electronic distribution” (rather than for content, note), namechecks for the Wired and Scientific American sites and gushing, BP-oil-leak-style praise for Steve Jobs.