News Corp’s digital divergence

June 28, 2012

There’s no secret why Rupert Murdoch is breaking News Corp into two pieces. Amy Chozick explains:

News Corporation had evolved into a successful entertainment company with a newspaper problem, several people close to the company have said.

“The idea this was this integrated media company isn’t true,” said one of those people, who was briefed on News Corporation’s strategy but could not discuss its internal dynamics for attribution. “Everything else managed to do well, and the newspapers had become difficult and even toxic.”

It’s worth underscoring the fact, here, that Fox News, Sky News, and Fox Business are going to end up on the entertainment, rather than the news, side of the divide, while The Daily and HarperCollins join what News Corp describes as “some of the world’s most successful print, digital and information services brands”.

What does this mean for the much-vaunted Digital Convergence? It’s certainly happening in the narrow sense that we will all ultimately get our news and entertainment from things called “screens”, whether they’re phones or tablets or TVs or something as-yet uninvented. But the whole point about screens is that you don’t really look at the screen, rather than through it — to the content being displayed. And nothing shows the power of different types of news than what happened this morning, when the news broke that the Supreme Court had upheld Obama’s healthcare law.

As a rule, everything on the news side of Murdoch’s news/entertainment divide got it right, and everything on the entertainment side got it wrong. If you were watching ScotusBlog, or following the updates from Reuters, or even just trying to keep up with the flood of information on Twitter, the nuances of the decision came out quickly and accurately. If you were watching Fox News, on the other hand, or CNN, you would have been very confused by downright inaccurate reporting.

This is because TV news is ultimately much more an arm of the entertainment industry than it is of the news industry. Its star anchors get paid millions of dollars because they’re popular on TV, not because of their reporting skills; and while the occasional news magazine program will sometimes break news, newspapers and websites have always been the undisputed leaders on that front.

TV is still the leader in one area of news, however, and that’s live events. Which is why the CNN error caused such a big stir: because the timing of the Supreme Court decision was known in advance, there was a lot of anticipation about what the ruling might be, and Americans are hard-wired in such situations to turn to CNN, their trusted source for live, breaking, non-exclusive news. Liveblogs are all well and good, but live video by its nature is just a much more powerful medium for such events than anything text-based.

As we saw with CNN this morning, however, it also has serious reliability problems. And if we fast-forward to how the bipartite News Corp will look in a couple of years, I suspect that the WSJ’s live video feed covering the Supreme Court will be a much more reliable and intelligent guide to what’s going on than anything on Fox or even on CNN.

In other words, print media is converging on TV news, and will ultimately become the kind of trusted source of live-breaking news that CNN used to be. Meanwhile, TV news is never going to converge on the rest of the news industry; instead, it will drift further and further into the realm of entertainment.

All of which is to say that if you want to be a journalist, don’t work in TV. The pay might be better there, but if there’s any real journalism going on there right now, there probably won’t be in a few years’ time.


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