Monday, April 12, 2010

Why Aren't Irish Newspapers More Concerned About the Revolution?

Steve Jobs - Will the iPad be a reprieve or a death warrant?The newspaper industry is in flux. It may survive, or newspapers as we know them may go the same way as the town crier. Nobody really knows.

This is a worldwide phenomenon, the biggest change since Guttenberg, possibly, and no less revolutionary. The whole nature of how information is disseminated is changing. The internet has reduced venerable business models to rubble and so-called traditional media are fighting to adjust before they go belly-up.

How odd, then, that the Irish media seems so not-bothered about it all?

The panel on Karen Coleman’s Wide Angle show yesterday morning were clucking over the sparse coverage of the Polish air crash disaster in the Irish Sunday papers. How very insular, they said. It’s not like the didn’t have time, as the crash happened so early on Saturday, they said.

But the Irish media could never cover what happened in Poland. If you’re editor of the Sunday Independent, whom do you ask to write up an analysis of the role in 21st Century Polish life of President Lech Kaczynski or Slawomir Skrzypek, the head of the Polish national bank? Declan Lynch? Brendan O’Connor?

The Irish media are like the guests in Edgar Allen Poe’s Masque of the Red Death. There’s a man coming to visit, and they seem innocently or wilfully oblivious to the devastation he will wreak.

Mark Little tweeted an link yesterday to something Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, wrote about the iPad in today’s Observer, and how it could save the newspaper industry. Tech Crunch had a cheap dig, but they missed the most significant thing about the piece.

Rusbridger is the second major British media figure to come out and say that the iPad may save their industry. The first was Rupert Murdoch. The notion of anyone in the Guardian agreeing with Murdoch about anything is stunning. But this alliance between right and left shows just how parlous the state of newspapers is, and how close we could be to a whole new age of publishing.

A quarter of a century ago, when Murdoch broke SOGAT, the Fleet Street printers’ union, the newspaper business model was easy to understand. You had to print the paper, which took huge machines hours and hours of very expensive time. And then you had to put it in vans to ship it to whomever wanted to read it. But anybody who wanted to read it had to pay for it, and there was a second revenue stream of advertising as well. All neat and tidy.

But that’s all past tense now. Desktop publishing has sent hot metal printing the way of the dinosaur. You don’t need a fleet of vans now to deliver the product. All you need is a web server. Infinitely cheaper. Your prior cost model is now null and void. Equally, your chances of getting paid for gathering, processing and disseminating all this are zero too. It's a zero sum game. Everything is in freeflow.

What the newspaper product actually looks like the sticking point now, but Rusbridger’s argument is that the iPad may finally represent the ideal medium to view multi-media content.

When you watch media on You Tube you’re still in front of your computer. It feels like work. The iPad, according to Rusbridger, makes it feel like fun to a much wider audience than the techie mavens. And that’s what makes the iPad so potentially revolutionary.

How does this effect Ireland? Harder to say. For all this old yak about a knowledge economy, Ireland is very conservative in the way news is disseminated. Mattie McGrath, TD, is unlikely to suffer at the polls because he hasn’t been tweeting about headage payments to disadvantaged areas.

But it’s going to become increasingly difficult to justify spending two Euro a day on a newspaper when you can get more than a newspaper can possibly deliver from a device like the iPad. And what does that mean for the future of an independent Irish media, or who we inform ourselves about how the country is governed? And why isn’t anybody talking about it? Who’s that knocking on the door?

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