Alan Rusbridger the Guardian Editor gave the Hugh Cudlipp lecture on Monday. His speech, “Does Journalism Exist?” was a tour de force assessment of the future for modern journalism. And what a future that is.
Because his introduction conjured an image of today’s journalist pondering how their daily pay or future pension might be sustained by their craft—journalism. Of course, such pondering was alien to the journalists of 30 years ago.
This introduction enabled Rusbridger to discuss business models. An equally alien concept to many journalists today, let alone in Hugh Cudlipp’s era. So, he explained how a drive towards online content charging was being touted by Rupert Murdoch’s media empire as the way forward for the New York Times and the Times. Disappointingly he didn’t note the examples of the Financial Times and the Economist that have offered paid content for several years now.
Rusbridger moved on to the impact of a paid content business model in terms of universal access to information and the natural authority of journalists. He questioned whether paid content would affect the authority of journalists as they became accessible behind a paid wall. And we suspect we know that answer.
The Hugh Cudlipp lecture then explored the Murdoch contention that the BBC’s free content model damages the prospects of a paid content model. He then drew a useful analogy with the USA. Because there, broadcasters are in as much trouble as their UK counterparts. But they don’t have a home-grown public broadcasting body of note. And so, he finished with a note that a Murdoch-inspired regulatory onslaught on the BBC might not have any impact on the competitiveness of paid content models at all. Damage the BBC but do yourself no good was the view.
Indeed, Rusbridger went on to highlight how the Guardian had considered and rejected the paid content model.
Rusbridger’s vision of new journalism is that of digital journalism. Journalism of the web, not on the web. It’s a journalism of expertise and specialism combined with populism and generalism. It’s a mash-up of blogs, links, multimedia and twitter. Using case studies and digital examples he highlighted new journalism in terms of mass movements inspired by journalists; the expertise of crowds conducted by journalists.
It’s an undeniably open access model; supporting advertising, widget and paid print revenues. And bizarrely it’s a model that already fits with some branches of the Murdoch empire: the Sky News web site or some of News International’s free book publishing web sites for example are free to access with no plans for paid content.
Open access is clearly preferred to that of closed paid only journalism. But the examples in this Hugh Cudlipp lecture suggest that a mix of the two models is a more likely scenario. The suspicion remains that there is more to the onslaught on the BBC than a discussion of the merits of paid content or free web content alone.
So, this was a good lecture that made some fine use of multimedia. But, better signposting throughout would have made for easier following.
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