Wednesday, July 27, 2011

murdoch again

Two weeks ago, I wrote in this blog that the Murdoch scandal could lead to the sale of the newspapers of the group. A few days later, rumor spread in the British press that the media lord had hinted he could get rid of his London publications. To day, I still believe that the crisis facing the largest media empire in the world could result in a complete reorganization of the group.

However, it is a well known fact that Rupert, contrary to his sons and deputies is a real press maniac (see the report on his behaviour in with testimonies from former journalists of News Corp.). If he sells the less profitable but most cherished part of his properties, he will send a strong signal to his many ennemies and rare friends in the media world. It will mean the old man is giving up after 50 years of fight in the world of tabloids. After the disastrous sale of Myspace, it would be another terrible failure.

The next question is: who could buy. Very few investors are interested in print and even the Times of London is not the powerful opinion maker it used to be. The Web and Twitter have gained so much ground that now, according to recent research, 56% of the Americans consult every day the news on the Web.

The outcome of News Corp is a major challenge to all media actors.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The postMurdoch era

What happens after Murdoch? In, jack Shafer has made many interesting comments. he seems to think that the old man can survive a major crisis that spreads from the UK to the US by firing top executives of News Corp, including his son James. I am not so sure. Rupert has a big handicap, his age. he is 80 and his many ennemies are much younger and very active.

In the New York Times,, Roger Cohen praised Murdoch for saving the British press by defeating the printers unions in 1986 and buying the deficit ridden Times. All that is true but these events took place long before the internet revolution that has drastically changed the media landscape. Now, the speed of information is such and the damages to people can be so enormous that some rules must be set up. The press doesn't like regulations but a form of legal responsability could be fixed by the law. If attempts at privacy are sanctionned by heavy penalties, the publishers will be more cautious. Their best interest is to make money not to pay expensive fines to a lot of politicians.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

murdoch scandal and new technologies

The Murdoch scandal which has been going on for the last two weeks has many aspects: the cosy relationship between politicians and the media, the corruption of the British police, the limitless appetite of the public for titillating gossips. However, one point is rarely stressed, the impact of new technologies on the fabric of information, any kind of information.

Muckracking press is not new. Before the French Revolution, outrageous pamphlets circulated in France and in neighbouring countries. On the beginning of the 20th century, a yellow press was highly successful in the US and in France. Well before Murdoch, the Bild in Germany or, yes, the News of the World in the UK manipulated shamelessly the opinion and the politicians.

And yet, new technologies have drastically changed the game. It is very easy to listen to voicemail and private conversations on cell phones. As it was described in the bestseller Millenium, talented hackers can penetrate the intimacy of any owner of a computer and a mobile. Last but not least, the most vicious gossips and pictures are spread in a few minutes on the Web, thanks to Twitter and Facebook.

The way information worked in the 80's was closer to the Ancien Regime circulation of news than to the present day. But, the rule of law and the ethics of journalists, this dirty word, have never been adjusted to the new world of the media. When a cynical, omnipotent boss is in charge, you can easily imagine what happens. We are right in the middle of a terrible mess that shakes our democraties. We'll discuss the possible solutions in another blog.

Friday, July 8, 2011

A hot Summer for the French press

The Summer will be long and hot for the French press. Here are some matters of reflexion for the various actors of this endangered profession.

First Presstalis. On July 1st, Lagardère dropped out of this unhappy organization and was replaced by the cooperatives of dailies and magazines. However, the yearly deficit of the firm is close to 20 million € and the press is unable to face such losses. There are two possible solutions: to admit a new partner, which seems unlikely in spite of contacts with the Post or to reduce drastically the exposure of Presstalis by dropping the delivery of national newspapers. the regional newspapers are working on proposals to take in charge this delivery and the legislation has been modified by the Parliament to allow this proceeding. A fine opening but it will leave Aujourd'hui and L'Equipe, the two dailies of Group Amaury without any delivery support out of Paris as the regional press consider them as competitors. Moreover, it remains to be seen if Presstalis can survive by delivering only magazines, while it is in competition with MLP which is cheaper and attracts a growing number of publications.

The fate of Presstalis is very much in jeopardy and the many union strikes won't improve the situation.

Second, le Monde. After 3 months of discussions, Louis Dreyfus has not managed to reach a full agreement with the two unions that operate in the printing unit of the daily. However, he should not be blamed for this lackluster performance.

The sick Murdoch Empire

The Murdoch affair is absolutely schoking from an ethical point of view and reveals a high level of corruption in the British police and political establishment. However, there is another aspect of this sordid story, it is the impact on the organization and future of the Murdoch Empire. The closing of the News of the World will cost very little to its owners. According to the New York Times, the annual revenue of this weekly is one billon dollars as compared to 9 billion dollars collected by BskyB. Moreover, it is a well known fact that the Murdoch family does not believe any more in the future of the press. When Rupert decided to pay 5 billion dollars for the Wall Street Journal, his sons disaproved the deal but could not oppose it.

It is very likely that the new developments of this affaire that will lead to the indictment of several members of Murdoch staff ,will weaken the position of the partisans of the press as opposed to the very profitable television and movie branches of the group. The family of the patriarch will probably put more pressure on him to get rid of these unpleasant dailies that carry a lot of trouble and very little profit. The big question is: will Murdoch clean his group before he leaves or will he try to keep things going against the wish of his whole family?

the New York Times and Twitter

Last Sunday, the New York Times presented its new supplement that replaces the week in review. It is focused on opinions and long papers aiming at explaining the current news. It seems that this new presentation is fairly successful, as people are looking for an assessment of the plethoric informations that reach their computers or their smartphones.

In a way, the gray lady is trying to make for the frustration brought by Twitter or the other social networks. For educated readers it is exciting to discover that every minute, something is happening on the Planet but is it enough or even necessary? Will several unchecked news of 140 signs replace a comprehensive analysis of Strauss Kahn legal case? If you want to understand and not just to know, you cannot be happy with the current newsflows.

So the attempt of the NYT is worth considering. If it works, many other newspapers will follow this exemple or, at least, I hope so.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rossel and the regional press

Bernard Marchant is a probably the best newspaper manager in France. Unfortunately, he is Belgian. His success as owner of both the Brussels Le Soir and the French La Voix du Nord, is striking if you compare him to his colleagues of France's regional newspapers. He is both a pragmatist and a very active businessman who believes in the future of newspapers if they are well managed and have a user friendly approach to the Web.

He has stated many times that he wanted to increase his share of the French press. He would have been a very successful owner of Le Parisien if ms Amaury had been willing to sell him. Now, his deal with la Montagne is the first step in the building up of what will probably be, in a few years, the largest French group. Watch out, the man has many good ideas and is willing to move quickly.