Murdoch's diverting tiff with Google
The unresolved, almost sexual, tension between Google and Rupert Murdoch is hugely captivating, and extends the employability of we News Corp Kremlinologists who could fill our time with interpreting events on multifarious media outlets.
Somehow this charismatic pairing has injected a thighful of adrenaline into the mundane areas of online charging mechanisms and search engine indexing - even Arianna Huffington, the doyenne of the new media age, is embroiled in the debate.
But is obsessional coverage of the "old media versus new media" debate part of the real problem: focusing on the past while missing the more important story?
Google is arguably in much more trouble with the world in general than with Murdoch in particular. Why? Both the desire of web users to be able to act and communicate instantaneously (or the "real-time web") and the rise and rise of social media through sites such as Facebook and Twitter means that even Google is not immune to changes in consumer behaviour.
Publishers and broadcasters too have endured an object lesson this year in how unofficial networks and consumer response will shape their businesses in the future. The visibility of public dissent has spooked everyone from the BBC during the Ross-Brand affair through to Jan Moir on the Daily Mail over Gatelygate. The ceding of control and the expectation that empowerment brings are potentially enormous threats or opportunities of Google-esque proportions, ones which ought to haunt every publishing executive every day.
From the way Rupert Murdoch has talked about aggregators, one would think they were the biggest threat to high-quality investigative journalism. Can this be true? What about the chilling effects of libel tourism and a system that both adds cost to stories and stifles freedom of expression? We all want ways to make high-quality journalism supportable and sustainable but in order to do that we need to lobby to lower the cost of the lawyers' bills too. One libel settlement, or even a robust defence of a hopeless case, would need several hundred subscribers to traverse your paywall or euphemistic "value gate" for a year before it is paid for. The Guardian's recent case in Iraq, which has been extensively covered here and on some other outlets, but has none of the Murdoch box office attached to it, should worry us all more than Google.
And then there is the demographic change that is about to bear down on us like an enormous tidal bore of obliteration - the rise of the 10-year-old digital native. Children under 10 are our first generation who will grow up in a predominantly screen-based interactive culture. The first generation who will have grown up with high-speed broadband access in their houses, whose educational experience will struggle to keep pace with their own new learning strategies and make sense of their new communication techniques.
I could go on - the iPlayer, apps, linked data, devices - the whole world of communication delivery is changing, with profound impacts on business models, freedoms and democracy. Perhaps the light entertainment of Murdoch's supreme lobbyist performance is actually just what we need, to stop us from thinking about the stuff that really matters when it comes to the web and journalism.
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