Mr. Murdoch wants to shift to a paid access model for
online the online
versions of his news holdings. He's negotiating a deal with Microsoft's
search engine toward that purpose.
It's hard to understand the conjecture that Wikipedia ties in with those
plans. If anything, Wikipedia's habit of referencing historic news articles
would help Mr. Murdoch's bottom line because it sends traffic to old
articles, which can generate advertising revenue from old news that would
otherwise be valueless.
If he's right about paid access being the most profitable model, then his
self interest would be best served by fencing new content within a paid
access only for a brief time: a week at most. By that time it becomes old
news and there's more money to be made through advertising. Successive
release to different venues is standard practice within the entertainment
industry: a film starts with theatrical release, and once that exhausts
itself it goes to cable, DVD and network television in descending order of
If this is his plan and it becomes the news industry standard then it could
make breaking news less burdensome upon Wikipedia's administrators: fewer
people will read the news immediately and edit Wikipedia. Of course
Wikipedia might also be the wrench in his plans because he can't prevent his
readers from updating Wikipedia, significant news readership would shift to
Wikipedia, and we have no reason to stop being a free venue.
The news "industry" is in as much a quandary as the music and film
industries. It's a model that depends heavily on news as entertainment.
That's the only model that seems to justify the /ad nauseam/ treatment
of such topics as Anna Nicole Smith's death or the Balloon Boy of
Colorado. If a Florida mother kills her infant daughter it's a tragic
personal event, but it should have no real effect on the lives of
persons away from the immediate situation. Yet another boring speech by
a politician is not going to sell much news. Those who would critically
read through such speeches are also likely to be just as critical of
advertising, or to simply dismiss the ads as background noise.
Certain copyright issues are also at the heart of the problem, notably
that you can't copyright information. You can copyright expression, but
Wikipedians are quite happy to not use the actual wording of news
reports. News services at one time relied on the patronage of small town
media who were delighted to receive anything from the outside world;
they could in turn easily edit that news to suit the pleasure of their
local advertisers. Now, readers have more access to other
interpretations of the same information. If Murdoch charges for
information, I can often go to another competing site and get it for
free. If he is the only source for the information, someone with access
can with impunity repeat that information on another site as long as he
does so in different words. Conditions of use that treat public
information as proprietary may very well be beyond the legal capacity of
the commercial sites.
I don't dispute that it's expensive to have newsworthy items properly
covered by enough reporters for credibly objective treatment. A single
embedded reporter is too vulnerable to infection from the tunnel-vision
of those who embed him. At the same time, is an organisation like
Wikinews in any position to send its own reporters to cover a difficult
story? The cost of news coverage and the funding of those costs are
headed in opposing directions. I have yet to see anyone with the vision
to resolve that divergence.