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Established Media Taking Different Approaches to Online Content

Traditional media groups continue to struggle with falling advertising rates, declining circulation figures and what many might see as a reduced relevancy in the face of news-coverage-as-it-happens on the Internet.

Australia's Fairfax Media group has reported a loss of $300 million AUD for the most recent financial year, and although advertising income has stabilised, there is no recovery yet. When compared to profit for the previous year's results, it can be surprising that, with only 10% less revenue, there is such a great loss (EBITDA shows the significance of this 10%). A lot of it can be put down to a reduction in the ethereal value associated to goodwill and the "carrying value of its mastheads".

It could be seen as a chance to write off some overvaluation or unprofitable business operations in a challenging economic environment, perhaps planning for further decline in advertising and reach. Rather than making waves about how much harder it is competing against other news sources online, it appears that the Fairfax Group is making an effort to be positioned to make the most of what is possible online. With its online division showing the smallest decline (0.8%), it shows that established media groups will have a place online and still have a role for distributing and publishing news.

Another take on the difficulties facing media is provided by James Murdoch, while delivering the McTaggart lecture, who attacked publicly funded news sources such as the BBC for making it harder for private news organisations to ask people to pay for their news. With News Corporation coming off a $3.4 billion USD loss for the most recent financial year, the decision by the company to charge across its suite of online services has already been covered here before.

The claims being made by James Murdoch may carry some value, but having those sources available also represents a diversification of news coverage and bias, something that is more difficult to achieve if news becomes completely corporatised, and which continues to inform people, irrespective of their economic circumstances.

This attack against the BBC could soon be echoed against state and publicly funded broadcasters globally, all of which present their own biases when delivering news content.

In an environment where there is only commercial news sources, or even one where there is only publicly funded sources, dissenting viewpoints can be lost and it is important that as many sources as possible are kept around to provide the broadest coverage, and ultimately a neutrally-weighted average point of view on news.

31 August 2009

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