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Mainstream press is missing the unique point of new media

By Hugh Brown - posted Tuesday, 17 May 2005

The Murdoch press continues to talk up the Internet following Murdoch's ASNE address. The "Media" liftout of The Australian (April 28, 2005), contained a gem on the front page called "Print learns to love the web" and a two-page "Interactive special report" in the middle.

This gratuitous self-promotion is at least on the right track, with the "Director of News Interactive", Nic Jones, being attributed as saying, "We are a content manufacturer. We are not a newspaper company, not a TV company, we are a media company ... All we are talking about here is the way we distribute our product." Fairfax's Mike Game agrees, saying multi-platform delivery was "no longer an option but mandatory".

Interesting to note that Jones was recruited from Yahoo!, one of the most innovative (and successful) companies in the Internet's short history. Perhaps this is recognition from News Ltd's senior management that the legacy of the print mentality cannot be overcome from within the organisation - a fresh outside perspective is needed.


Of course, this realisation is still the no-brainer of the new media puzzle as far as publishing is concerned. All it's doing is keeping up with the technology and taking advantage of the increased distribution channels. One of the great leaps forward of the Internet has always been the reduced cost of distribution across media channels. By 2000 I had already devised a content-management platform for this purpose, which was ignored by everyone I showed it to.

But it seems to me that News Ltd and Fairfax (and the ABC and other large legacy publishers for that matter) still haven't grasped the other great leap forward of new media publishing: hypertext. For new media consumers, the content is NOT necessarily the end of their journey - of their media gratification. The other greatly reduced cost is that of using the information contained in the news media content and of pursuing the ideas in it.

A classic example of this is the continued practice of publishing news coverage of, for example, the latest NATSEM modelling on the value of the Heath Care Insurance rebate without linking to the original report! On this story the ABC has provided some lovely, broadband-harnessing audio material (in case we want to take the time to hear it as well as read about it) but doesn't let the reader pursue the information to its source. This is a fundamental misconception about the value of new media. And it's a persistent fault of mainstream new media publishers.

Of course, this is one aspect that bloggers and "alternative" media practitioners have long valued and taken advantage of: related links, embedded links to sources - the real essence of hypertext. After all, it's about the only advantage they have over mass-media publishers.

Even the American Society of Newspaper Editors, when they published a web story about Murdoch's speech, did not link to the full text. But they did provide a "print-friendly version"! Legacy thinking! When the Online News Association covered it, they wrote less and provided two links: one to the full text and one to an "Editor and Publisher's analysis" of it. When Dan Gillmour, the first blogger that Google found when I searched for the speech, wrote about it, he included three links in the first paragraph: one to a Wikipedia entry on Murdoch, one to a NYNewsday article about the speech and one to the full text of the speech - and this link was repeated further down the page. A much more web-friendly approach.

And, of course, the "mainstream" media will not be able to compete with the minor players as long as they fail to grasp this fundamental difference. While they pursue expensive, technologically-driven measures to WOW people with their cleverness, they continue to miss the point that "digital natives" of a slightly older age, but less-hyped generation, got right from the start: It is about doing the same things in different ways ... uniquely new media ways.


Mind you, they'll probably corner the advertising market and the eyeballs because they are best equipped, staffed and funded to do so.

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About the Author

Hugh Brown is a PhD candidate in the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT and teaches communication at the University of Queensland and QUT. He was editor of On Line Opinion from June 2000 until August 2004 and has a degree in journalism from the University of Queensland, for which he was awarded a University Medal. Before joining On Line Opinion he was editor of the now-defunct Tr@cks e-zine, based in Brisbane, and inaugural student editor of The Queensland Independent. He has also freelanced for a variety of publications.

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