Thursday, April 08, 2010

Rupert Murdoch and the future of blogging

I really didn't feel much like original thought this morning, so instead I took the time just to browse some of the blogs I follow.

I did so in part with Rupert Murdoch in mind. This may sound a strange thing to say, but Mr Murdoch has been suggesting that the search engines should not be allowed to access full text on newspapers, only a heading with one line of text. Readers would then have to pay for full access.

I wonder what such a world would be like? Would we bloggers simply fade away, or would we change our coverage? I suspect the second.

On Australian Observer, Paul Barratt has maintained his usual mix of personal, music and quite serious reporting. His War Powers Bill crushed by major parties deals with a quite serious issue, the extent to which Australian forces can be sent on overseas missions without Parliamentary approval. The post includes links to Paul's previous writing on this issue, so that you can follow the argument through.

Paul's Australia’s population deals with an issue that I have referred to as well, the debate about the size of the Australian population. This post does include a newspaper quote and link. This is an area where Paul and I come from a common starting point:    

Unfortunately the lack of political imagination is such that whenever there is talk of doubling the size of Australia’s population our political “elites” assume that this automatically means passively accepting a doubling of the size of Sydney, Melbourne and the other state capitals, crowding more and more people into taller and taller buildings spread along ever more congested transport corridors and dragging water from further and further away to provide for their needs.

I am working on regional demographic data at the moment, and will have more to say on this later,

Winton Bates' Freedom and Flourishing is another blog written by a former senior Commonwealth public servant and indeed another one with an Armidale connection; Winton and I were in the same year at the University of New England, Paul a little in front of us.

In two of his recent posts (here one, here two) Winton discusses the Australian Treasury's attempts to develop a well being framework to guide the provision of policy advice. Now this discussion drives to the heart of something that has long concerned me, the emergence of what I see as growing systemic failures in policy development and delivery.

When I was in Treasury and then in the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce, my colleagues and I spent a fair bit of time looking at the reasons for policy failure: these start from failure to properly define the problem to be addressed; continue with failure to establish a proper nexus between the problem and the proposed responses; are compounded by failure to properly define the proposed responses; and then collapse because of inadequate delivery.

Winton's latest post, Why should we view individual rights as metanormative principles?, is a philosophical piece that I am still working my way through. In doing so, I was struck by one rather nice line:

A problem with this (Mill's) line of argument is that it is possible for any of us to claim that other people would benefit from being prevented from engaging in what we think is foolish behaviour because they do not seem to be sufficiently interested or knowledgeable about the effects of that behaviour on their well-being. Robert Sugden makes the point that when people make this argument they are imagining that ‘whoever designs the regulations will share their own sense of what is foolish, rather than belonging to the party of fools’.

Sugden is of course correct. When we argue, for example, that the Commonwealth rather than the states should do something, we are in fact assuming that the Commonwealth will do it better. In similar vein, those who support internet censorship in fact assume that it will be their views of what is acceptable and unacceptable that will carry the day in the longer term

Another blogger with considerable policy experience is Nicholas Gruen, part of the Club Troppo team.

Nicholas has been musing over what might constitute a third way in politics triggered by the UK elections (here, here). However, beyond this, one thing that he has been actively involved in over a considerable period is the introduction of web 2.0 approaches into Government. His most recent post, Hoisted from Archives: ABC 2.0, provides a taste.

I haven't commented before on the discussions here including the Commonwealth inquiry that Richard led, in part because I don't quite share his enthusiasms, in part because I have not had time to work the issues through. However, his ABC post as well as his preceding posts bear directly upon Mr Murdoch's problems and business aspirations.

It is no coincidence that News Corporation executives have directly attacked the ABC. To make his plans work,  Mr Murdoch has to reduce the quantity of free content. The greater the free content, the more diversion will occur from the now pay-walled sites to the remaining sites. However, Mr Murdoch's problems do not end there.

One of the reasons why I am cautious about Nicholas's enthusiasm for web 2.0 in Government is that I don't think that the interactivity element within them will work very well. What I am sure of, however, is that the increasing quantity of Government material on-line is a very good thing indeed.

Assume now that all the Murdoch papers around the world plus the other Australian papers all go behind pay walls. Bloggers such as myself will simply go direct to the original source material.

Most of us do this now. As Paul did with the war powers bill, as Winton did with Treasury's well being framework, as I try to do with my stories, we check against the sources. Should the papers' vanish, we will just have to rely more on each other.

To finish, let me just list some of the other blogs I follow that bear upon this point:

  • Aboriginal Art & Culture: an American eye is a specialist blog that may seem to have little to do with the point I am making. Yet Will Owen's informed analysis and reporting has generated multiple stories on this blog.    
  • Ben Sandiland's Plane Talking is, for someone like me who is interested in aerospace and aviation, a quite wonderful blog.
  • Helen Webberley's ART and ARCHITECTURE, mainly is a superb historical  and cultural blog.
  •  Neil's second decade has just had a very interesting series of consolidation posts on the climate change debate.

Now the risk for Mr Murdoch's current plans is that people like me will simply move away from his space and instead focus on the rest.

Could I survive as a blogger?  Yes. After all, as a blogger I actually have access to as much depth as Mr Murdoch's staff have, given their time limitations. It's just that my stories might change a little.


Paul Barratt has kindly run a companion post,  Rupert Murdoch and the future of blogging, that further fleshes out the arguments.


Winton Bates said...

Thanks for the plug, Jim. And thanks also for drawing attention to recent posts by Paul Barratt and Nicholas Gruen.
I don't think any of us have much to fear from Rupert Murdoch's intentions to charge for access to news. I tend not to comment on current news in my (somewhat unconventional) blog. But even more normal blogs that do comment on current news don't depend all that heavily on links to particular sources of news coverage. When I think about it, opinion pieces printed in news papers also tend to be self-contained i.e. they don't have a lot of references to specific news items elsewhere in the paper.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Winton. I said some time ago that I wanted to write something on your thoughts. Consider this a first instalment!

I think that you are right. With the exception of the aggregators, most bloggers (twitter is a different matter)who rely on the papers mainly do so as a source of ideas. I would miss the on-line papers, but could live without them. It might even reduce lazyness!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jim

You said:

“my colleagues and I spent a fair bit of time looking at the reasons for policy failure: these start from failure to properly define the problem to be addressed; continue with failure to establish a proper nexus between the problem and the proposed responses; are compounded by failure to properly define the proposed responses; and then collapse because of inadequate delivery”

So, were there any worthwhile resulting changes in approach you can report?

Even if not, thank you for such a succinct summary of the potential for bureaucratic failure.

Which is way off topic – “the future of blogging”. Sorry.

What I really wanted to say was that blogs such as yours, to me, seem to differ in at least three practical ways when compared to mass circulation media:

1) the lack of editorial overview/review and direction
2) the reduced size of the potential audience
3) the “self-feeding” inherent within what seem to be fairly small circles of bloggers.

These are not criticisms, just observations – and they are directed towards “personal” blogs, such as yours and Mr Barratt’s, rather than blogs attached to the Crikeys and Huffington Posts of the world.

I think there will always be a place for both the mass market and the personal reflections approaches. And I deliberately do not quote your blog title.

I would distinguish blogs such as yours and Mr Barratt’s and Ramana’s from the clipping services provided by some other bloggers which seem to me more to be designed as meeting places for already committed/decided readers to express their already known views via the comments.

The distinguishing feature to me is unfiltered original thought. And for that I politely salute you and both of them.

One “problem” is the lack of circulation. But that is only a problem if wider circulation is what you seek, as opposed to personal satisfaction, understanding, fulfilment etc.


I started writing this before your post about Facebook and Twitter. These don’t personally interest me as tools for expression simply because I see them as “closed loops” – i.e groups of like-thinking friends who mainly reinforce (cheer on?) each other’s endeavours. Again – absolutely not a criticism, just an observation.

Anonymous said...

Re Twitter:

I am imagining Descartes' "I think. therefore I am" being tweeted by a group of earnest friends thusly:

"Am what pub?"


Jim Belshaw said...

Thoughtful comments as always, KVD. I laughed at your take on Descarte.

On the policy one, somethings worked, some didn't. I have written about this before in fact, but will pick it up again.

I think I broadly agree with your analysis on the blogging issue, although I have some problems with your self-feeding analysis. It doesn't actually work that way. You have also not taken into account the search engine traffic.

On this blog, this generates 4-6 visits for every return visitor. In a sense, this reinforces your point, because it makes the more "actively involved" readership smaller still.

I fear that you have stimulated another post here, too!

Anonymous said...


I am a regular visitor to this blog because I find it stimulating, but I am an inveterate grazer, so having read your latest thought, I nearly always hit the "next" button to see where it will take me. Two thoughts:

1) For some reason I am always placed upon somebody's baby or religious blog - somewhere in Middle America. Try this on some of your other circle of blogs, and you will see their immediate surroundings are more ""connected" to their interests. I am wondering why.

2) I also wonder why there isn't a "previous blog" button.

Sorry, nothing of great moment; just a(nother) computer wonder.


Jim Belshaw said...

How fascinating, David. I haven't actually tried that. I wonder whether its the title, or the subject matter or both?