I recently did some consultancy work on the shift to digital for a large newspaper, which is why I was particularly interested in this recent post about content aggregation and the newspaper business by Nico Flores at On Demand Media. The crux of Nico’s argument (one to which I subscribe) is that the real value of newspapers is their ability to aggregate content, something that wasn’t necessarily apparent when they were confined to print.
However, as Nico points out elsewhere, there are some powerful forces that make it difficult for newspapers to adopt a new aggregation-based model, in which they produce only a small amount of content themselves.
Personally speaking, I think there’s an additional problem, i.e. newspapers are much more than content distribution businesses, they’re an important part of our structure of governance – editors, journalists and proprietors have had significant power and influence over our political and cultural lives. Newspapers are powerful institutions – which is probably why their fate is of so much interest, and why the move to a more open and inclusive model proves so difficult.
In the late part of the nineteenth century Tory grandee and serial Prime Minister Lord Salisbury dismissed Alfred Harmsworth’s Daily Mail as “a paper written for office boys by office boys.” Five years later those same recently enfranchised office boys swept Lloyd George’s reformist Liberal party to power.
A similar epochal change is happening to our media and if newspaper businesses don’t embrace change and find ways of creating open platforms and including new voices, then they will suffer the same political fate as the squirearchy represented by Lord Salisbury.
I’m not suggesting that any of this is easy, or that newspapers will suddenly become irrelevant, but I do think that there will be significant benefits for the content providers (be they broadcasters or newspapers) in the UK that embrace a content aggregation model.