The bitchfight which could shape our future

IT WAS truly a heavenly scene. One man graced the stage, with expectant eyes in the crowd prowling his visage. This would be the man who would usher in a new age of democracy and harmony, all while wearing a turtle-neck sweater. They called him the ‘Job-man’, he who held the power of the earth in his hand. He was about to unveil what the new age would look like, and whether it had roaming capabilities.

Lo and behold, the iPad!

Surely this device is to save print journalism from a slow and painful death. This device the holy one had in his hands would save an industry steeped in 200-year tradition. Again we would see the long-form journalism of years gone by! No more would journalists be reduced to writing about what Miss Spears had for breakfast, or worse, convert to broadcast mediums (gasp!).

Along comes Rupert Killjoy with the news, Jack! Instead of basking in the glow that the almighty Job Man hath provided, the killjoy says the Job Man’s gift to the world would be merely an empty vessel were it not for his content.

Hiss, boo!

The Job Man has provided the bricks for the Great Paywall of Murdoch and all he can do is sling mud at the device? What utter pretension, what utter gall!  Of course, he’s completely and utterly right.

The days following the unveiling of the iPad, social commentators were quick to point out that this new device had the potential to save online/print journalism by making it easier for publications to charge for their content, but the media not part of the Murdoch Empire had a field day when Rupert made his comments.

They were seen as indicative of the man who raged against the culture of ‘free’ on the internet, really seen as an old empire tycoon being ungrateful for the opportunity to reach new audiences. What we haven’t seen from the mainstream media though, is the suggestion that just maybe the relationship between platform and content isn’t tainted with power struggle but instead is truly symbiotic. And what we haven’t seen, is the question of what this relationship could bring.

Death of Democracy?

The iPad is being marketed as an alternative to the Kindle, in that it has all the same capabilities and functions of a Kindle or electronic reader but it has the groovy upside of aesthetics that only Apple can provide, and already built fan-base.

At this point, Steve Jobs could stick an Apple logo on a cow and it would still sell.

Whether or not the iPad or Kindle would be “Unloved and untouched vessels” is neither here nor there. What’s curious about this whole incident though, is how the iPad makes a pay wall a reality.

What sort of subscription model are we likely to see from News Corp. And will the rest of me media moguls follow suit? Are we about to see the death of the culture of ‘free’ content online? What does that mean for the wider mission of journalism?

For years now, consumers have had readily and easily been able to access news and current affairs right at their fingertips. To media moguls concerned with the bottom line, and to lesser extent, journalists, this is a very bad thing. However, to those who have the greater interests of an informed democracy in mind free content is a utopian ideal.

Democracy functions best as an ideal when the populace is informed on all matters with rational and well-balanced debate whereas an uninformed democracy who will vote on a whim becomes a very dangerous thing. There are those who say, that voting due to inspiration and emotion without regard for policy is the most evil thing a person can do to a democracy.

This debate, instead of being entirely theoretical has become an increasingly urgent matter. With the iPad set to introduce Kindle-style readers to a mass market that only Apple could muster, the uptake rate of the new device will become not only a main battleground for Apple but an ideological one for the likes of Murdoch.

It all depends on how many people will accept paying for their online news content. If Murdoch is successful in taking News Corp content and selling it to individual companies such as Apple for their devices, expect other to follow suit. His sabre-rattling is just the warm up for delicate negotiations with both parties aiming to gain the upper hand. Does Apple need News Corp, or does News Corp need Apple?

In any case, if the relationship is to go forward and Murdoch is successful in selling online news to consumers in relatively large numbers, we could just be around for the death of the ‘free’ news.

- James McGrath


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