Brian Fuller's blog on the media, marketing and content creation

Murdoch and the Crusaders

Posted on | June 26, 2006 | No Comments

In an otherwise basic overview of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, a recent Guardian article had this nugget:

Myspace cost $600m (£320m), but executives believe it is now worth around $3bn, and (News Corp. internet division head Jeremy) Philips has been asked to apply the lessons learned from the teenage networking site across the group. That makes the thirtysomething a key player as Murdoch battles to ensure his influence will continue to be keenly felt in the digital age.

This, to me, is the $64,000 question. Myspace, Facebook and others are astonishingly fast-growing communities. How do you marry media and community? That’s not a question asked in indignation. It’s asked in wonderment.

Community–any community–is built around dialogue. Newspapers emerged in the past 200-plus years within established communities as a way to facilitate dialogue in increasingly literate societies. In the digital domain, communities are there for the buildin’… and it’s news organizations who are in a position to use their information to build those communities–the reverse of the old print model. (Or, perhaps more accurately, an extension of the original business-to-business publishing model: here’s a business community (engineers, aviators, IT professionals) let’s make a publication for them).

Established B2B publishers at least have a community they can build on online; their readers may not want to migrate with them online, but at least those publishers have a starting point. It’s much trickier for city and community newspapers. They only thing that binds those readers to those publications is physical proximity. And even that is fast collapsing: local listing, jobs, restaurant reviews and traffic maps are just a Google away.

But let’s say that San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzalez is indicted in a bribery scandal. Oh, wait. He was. If I’m running a big-city paper and have an active, aggressive editorial staff online, I’m not only reporting the story objectively as it unfolds, but I have people monitoring our own chat boards, other chat boards and community groups, watching the dialogue. If the distraction of a legal battle imperils some urgent community issue, wouldn’t I want to identify that issue, gather the participants together and help drive a solution? Wouldn’t I want to pull together those disparate voices on all sides of the issue and help facilitate, say, an emergency meeting to help the community deal with the distraction?

It’s not the best example, but newspapers have crusaded for two centuries. The best of them have illuminated issues and facilitated dialogue, and they need to bring that into the digital world.

It’s a different mentality and therein lies the challenge.

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