>Sly play with media regulation

>I’m not sure I fully understand the logic of Sly Bailey’s position, outlined at the Digital Britain summit, although her ulterior motive for adopting it is clear enough.

The chief executive of Daily Mirror-owner Trinity Mirror hit out at “gargantuan national newspaper websites designed to harness users by the tens of millions” which, “by performing well on search engines like Google, … have eroded the value of news.” Step forward, presumably, the Sun, The Guardian and the Mail as villains of the piece.

Bailey’s ultimate target is the dotcom news aggregators, such as Google News, which she roundly condemns for first pirating other people’s news, then commoditizing it around search optimization.

“A consumer is now as likely to discover newspaper content on Google, visit our sites, then flit away before even discovering that it was the Daily Mirror or the Telegraph that created the content in the first place,” she said. “Or worse, they may visit an aggregator like Google News, browse a digital deli of expensive-to-produce news from around the world, and then click on an ad served up to them by Google.”

In other words, everyone – consumers, dotcom portals, and advertisers on them – is getting a free ride except the publishers who actually pay for the content in the first place. No wonder the media is in crisis and experienced journalists are being discarded like autumn leaves by our major newspapers and free-to-air broadcasters.

Bailey is quite right, of course. But she goes on to suggest the newspapers have exacerbated the trend by building mega-news sites with the explicit intention of performing well in organic search. Her solution is to loosen the regulatory straitjacket, at present preventing newspapers from merging, in order to confront the challenge of the internet.
“Any merger regime which does not take Google, Yahoo, Rightmove and Monster into account simply isn’t fit for purpose,” she said. She’s presumably banking on Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report to come up trumps at the end of June.
Personally, I wouldn’t put too much money on it. First of all, I’m not sure how making the newspaper industry still more concentrated is going to help combat the challenge of the internet. If anything, concentration would accelerate the trend that Bailey is decrying. Secondly, the suggestion is politically naive.
If politicians took a strictly utilitarian approach to media, they might just agree with Bailey. But they don’t. Their main concern is to ensure that the newspaper barons, and specifically the house of Murdoch, do not become any more powerful than they already are. For God’s sake, these media dynasts can influence the outcome of elections and put you into the political wilderness for years!
However, Bailey speaks with the conviction of desperation. The way her company is going, it will soon disappear of its own accord if it is not allowed to merge with something more powerful. And I don’t mean by that Johnston Press.

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