OXFORD MEDIA SOCIETY
‘You’ve found the problem facing every newspaper in the world’, Matt Murray told a raptured audience at the Oxford Union two weeks ago. ‘There’s no business model.’
Murray, who recently left The Wall Street Journal for News Corp, spoke about the challenge of finding a sustainable model for profitability. Although the decline of print produced an initial suspicion of online paid subscriptions, it has since subsided. Yet newspapers continue to puzzle over the conundrum. Advertising revenue struggles to fill newsroom coffers adequately. A consensus has emerged that introducing a paywall and offering online paid subscriptions is the only workable solution. But in an age where events are often reported on in real time, why would any frugal member of the public pay for information easily accessible through BBC News, Facebook or even Twitter?
A quick glance at any homepage will reveal that, in response to this question, newspapers are reassessing how best to market their product and, indeed, what that product should be. In the UK, far greater emphasis is now placed on opinion pieces and an individual journalist’s brand. It’s not so much about wanting to read the Financial Times, but that the Financial Times is currently where Gideon Rachman, Janan Ganesh or, occasionally, Simon Schama happen to be writing. The rise of the opinion piece has gone hand in hand with a boost in the quantity and quality of long-form journalism. Previously a genre of article over which periodicals like the London Review of Books held a monopoly, now practically every broadsheet has a ‘Long View’ or ‘Big Read’.
But as Matt Murray reminded his audience, the same can’t necessarily be said of any US counterparts. There is a church and state divide between the newsroom and the Op-ed section in all major newspapers. For instance, Dean Baquet’s tenure running The New York Times was remarkable for many reasons, but one notable phenomenon was a rise in the number of news reporters being disciplined because they overzealously expressed their views of Twitter. American news journalists are unable to build their personal brand in the same way UK equivalents can, many of whom seem desperate to do so. The US market is a very different one from the UK’s, and it has yet to find a winning formula.