Sunday, February 07, 2010

I've seen the future of journalism, brother, and it's murder

There's a new newspaper in the capital: the London Weekly. It is so bad that the Guardian's blog on the subject includes much speculation as to whether the thing is a spoof.

Apart from the horrible design, the splash has been lifted verbatim from a sub-literate press release (and it's a monumentally tedious story) while the blurb below the masthead includes howlers such as mis-spelling Phil Tufnell's name. It does not get much better on subsequent pages. Nor does the website appear to much of an improvement. ("The London Weekly kept to it's deadline by launching successfully today").

Anyway, the question as to whether or not the thing is an elaborate hoax is almost beside the point. What the London Weekly is is the ne plus ultra of the way journalism has been developing in the internet age: getting your "reporters" to cut and paste and lift things second or third hand; dispensing with production staff (subs everywhere should give thanks for the London Weekly; it is the best possible refutation of the argument that they are an expensive anachronism that must be phased out in the new internet age*) and concentrating on lifestyle tat - and all because it's cheap and allows you to offer the product to a large number of people who won't pay for their news. As such, if it is a spoof it is a very clever and well-executed one.

It may have occurred to many people that it is a little rich for the Grauniad to be mocking others for their typos and literals; but the strategy behind the London Weekly is also something for a warning for those who, like Alan Rushbridger, are systematically destroying the Observer to fund a free content strategy that is costing his organisation £100,000 a day for the pleasure of "engaging" with millions of readers who won't even bring in ad revenue because they are such a diffuse, atomised bunch.

Not that I want to beat up on the Guardian solely: large number of media groups are trying to cut costs and corners while offering a increasingly shoddy cut-price product. I am also prepared to concede that those who believe that trying to charge people to read things online - or getting them to buy newspapers again - is doomed to fail may have a point. (I'd like the opposite to be the case, but that doesn't necessarily mean it will be).

The thing is that if those who argue that the only way you'll get readers is to give your journalism away to them are right; I'm not sure that they'll be able to afford to produce anything much better than the London Weekly.

[Then again, the new free Evening Standard is certainly getting the readers even if the quality is not such that one would imagine many people would pay for it now. Let's see how that pans out].

* I'm resigned to the fact that this post is likely to contain at least one glaring typo or literal as usually happens when you start criticising others' errors.

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