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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

January 26, 2010


Guardian, UK - The Guardian editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, has delivered a riposte to Rupert Murdoch's campaign to introduce paywalls to newspaper websites, claiming that it could lead the industry to a "sleepwalk into oblivion".

Delivering the 2010 Hugh Cudlipp lecture at London College of Communication today, Rusbridger said that universal charging for newspaper content on the internet would remove the industry from a digital revolution which is allowing news organizations to engage with their readers more than ever before.

Rusbridger described universal paywalls as "a hunch" and said that the newspaper industry would learn valuable lessons from trying different business models, including staying generally free while charging for specialist content or asking readers to pay on different platforms, such as mobile.

Last year Murdoch revealed that he would introduce charges for access to all his news websites, including the Times, Sunday Times and the News of the World by this summer. Last week the New York Times confirmed that it too would introduce a paywall to its website by 2011.

Rusbridger pointed out that News Corp has frequently used the price of news to attack rivals. "Murdoch, who has in his time flirted with free models and who has ruthlessly cut the price of his papers to below cost in order to win audiences or drive out competition ('reach before revenue', as it wasn't called back when he slashed the price of the Times to as low as 10p), this same Rupert Murdoch is being very vocal in asserting that the reader must pay a proper sum for content - whether in print or digitally," he said.

"Fleet Street is the birthplace of the tradition of a free press that spread around the world. There is an irreversible trend in society today which rather wonderfully continues what we as an industry started - here, in newspapers, in the UK.

"It's not a 'digital trend'. It's a trend about how people are expressing themselves, about how societies will choose to organise themselves, about a new democracy of ideas and information, about changing notions of authority, about the releasing of individual creativity, about resisting the people who want to close down free speech.

"If we turn our back on all this and at the same time conclude that there is nothing to learn from it then, never mind business models, we could be sleepwalking into oblivion.

"If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world."

The Guardian editor told an audience of academics and journalists in London that it is more important than ever to focus on journalism: "If you think about journalism, not business models, you can become rather excited about the future. If you only think about business models you can scare yourself into total paralysis."

Rusbridger quoted Sir Martin Sorrell, one of the most influential figures in advertising, who said he expected the digital share of his $14bn business to more than double by 2014.

With the global financial crisis gripping, Rusbridger said it was too soon to write off digital advertising as a significant element in supporting journalism. He added that his commercial colleagues currently believed a paywall would earn a fraction of what the Guardian was already earning in digital revenues. . .

"Growth isn't being bought by tricks or by setting chain-gangs of reporters early in the morning to rewrite stories about Lady Gaga or Katie Price. In that same period last year, our biggest growth areas were environment (up 137%), technology (up 125%) and art and design (up 84%).

He noted that roughly a third of the Guardian's 37 million unique users came from North America - at a total marketing spend over 10 years of only $34,000. He contrasted the influence of UK papers in the US with that of 50 years ago, when the Manchester Guardian's total foreign sale was 650.



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