Nov 10

Making eloquent mischief: Mencken, Murdoch and Dannythefink

Do you ever reach the end of the week gasping to read something counter-intuitive, counter to the trend or just mischevously subversive? I do. Writing stuff which takes you places that you don’t expect to go is one of journalism’s contributions to making better sense of the world and stuff.

Here are the pieces I read this week and which made me sit up.
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Jun 10

BabyBarista slips through the paywall

The upcoming paywall at The Times has claimed its first victim as one of its legal bloggers, BabyBarista, departed the paper to set up independently in order not to be cut off from the network of links, contacts and readers which the blog has created. Having waved a fond goodbye, barrister Tim Kevan then pronounced that the paywall will be a “disaster”. That post also contains links to those who agree with him and that list happens to make a very good guided tour of the opinions on one side of the argument.

Note two things. First the glee with which this breach in the wall is being greeted by those who have declared, in advance of the results coming in, that the experiment with paywalls will fail. This is premature in more than one way.

The judgement about The Times wall can’t be made for months. We need to know about revenue, subscriber churn, the kinds of usage the site is getting and whether ads are being sold on the new sites – to name only a few of things we probably won’t get told about. And paywall experiments will differ: if the one at The Times fails, that doesn’t mean that others (e.g. the upcoming one at the New York Times) will crash. Lastly, one defecting blogger doesn’t unravel a whole newspaper.

Second and more important, see how the ground of debate is shifting away from economics towards links. Paywall experiments are about making money from content. But the biggest difficulties they face haven’t been financial; they’ve been creative. Writers like being linked. They want reactions, tips, comments and, above all, recognition. Anything which shrinks those possibilities goes against the grain and against their interests.

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