Three lessons most publishers could learn from Rupert Murdoch

by Jason Preston on September 17, 2008

The Wall Street Journal recently redesigned their web site, giving it a very badly needed face-lift. The new site falls a little short of the New York Times’ ever-evolving web experience, but not by a whole lot.

Love him or hate him, Rupert Murdoch is no business slouch, and no stranger to the internet. The well-known Australian bought MySpace for a cool 500 million in 2006, and has subsequently grown it into one of only two social media juggernauts.

Here are three lessons that newspaper owners could learn from Rupert Murdoch on how to keep the lights on.

Focus on web content and web experience

This is the most important change that Murdoch is bringing to the Wall Street Journal is web savvyness. If you knew their old site, you’ll be blown away by their new one. It’s pretty, they’ve got a very clever roll-down ad space on the home page, and they’ve incorporated video in their layout.

Newspapers are in a transition stage right now. The market has shifted and the rules have changed – it’s not a good idea to run a newspaper with a focus on print content in the 24-hour internet world.

The web page promotes two kinds of subscriptions – an online subscription and a print subscription. If you look at the chart, they’re clearly putting an emphasis on the online subscription—pay the same, get more:

Have an opinion

This is where Murdoch gets the most hate. He’s a Republican. This is also where newspapers need to tread most carefully.

Everything Murdoch owns has a reputation for slanted coverage. Fox News is notorious for being a conservative news network, not an objective news network.

The lesson to learn is clear: having an opinion sells better.

I think it’s possible to separate the brand from the opinion writers at the brand. Murdoch conflates editorial with business decisions, and that’s where it hurts journalistic integrity.

Instead, newspapers might try hiring outspoken people on both sides of the fence, promising to keep the business and hard news coverage impartial (or at least balanced), while also presenting opinionated content that people can engage with.

Charge money

I think Murdoch said at one point that he planned to make the Wall Street Journal free. But then he saw the numbers, and decided that having a subscription paper is a good idea.

There are a million excuses for why the paid model works with the Wall Street Journal but wouldn’t work for a “normal” newspaper. They’re mostly crap.

The fact is that people will pay for a good product. Look at how the WSJ divides its free content and it’s subscription content. You can charge for those things where you have unique experience or authority, or you can charge for services that aren’t just reporting the news.

Thanks for reading Eat Sleep Publish. Don’t forget to come to The Pitch tomorrow in Belltown from 6:30 to 8:30.

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1 LShep 09.17.08 at 5:36 pm

Very interesting thoughts. I do like the new design of the site. I always thought the old one was a weird translation of the look of the newspaper into a new medium, which never works well. The same things that work in a newspaper just don’t work online.

2 Jason Preston 09.18.08 at 8:49 am

LShep – agreed, putting content online means more than just digitizing what you had in print, there are new design requirements and there are whole new ways you have to look at content production.

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