Murdoch: Guardian’s Paywall Warning ‘Sounds Like B.S. To Me’

You have to sympathise with The Guardian’s correspondent Andrew Clark, who, during News Corp.’s Q2 earnings conference call Tuesday night, dared to ask Rupert Murdoch: “I don’t know if you’ve read Alan Rusbridger’s speech… ?” “No,” Murdoch interrupted.

So Clark had another go, asking Murdoch to comment on the speech, in which his editor-in-chief last week warned that shutting journalism behind a wall risks suffocating the “democracy of ideas” and “sleepwalking in to oblivion”. “I think that sounds like B.S. to me,” Murdoch replied, again curtly.

Only a “dear boy” at the end of his sentence could have more patronised the ideological stance against Murdoch’s current mission.

In the UK, his Times Online is to start charging this Spring and, later, spin off a separate Sunday Times site, also pay-for, as Murdoch’s great content revaluation of 2009 filters down to his titles. But, as recently as a few of weeks ago, Times staff still seemed uncertain exactly how the paywall will manifest, and the full strategy team has only just been appointed…

Asked, on the call, for a progress update, Murdoch said: “We’re looking at various alternatives – and I don’t think we’re ready to announce yet … We’re in the midst of a lot of talks with a lot of people that are coming to a head – and you’ll hear a lot more from us in the next two months.

“We’ll be charging for online wherever we have publications,” he restated. But: “It wouldn’t surprise me if Australia is a couple of months behind the other countries, because there’s just a tremendous amount of work to do everywhere.”

More from Murdoch’s call…

“At times, that debate has been intense … but that has been essential when the stakes have been so high. Passivity and meekness are not characteristics of our company.

“A year ago, our criticism (of free content) was thought heretical – but … the content clan has gathered around our ideas. The value of content is now clear – instead of the existential debate about value, we are now merely haggling about valuations.

“Consumers … are willing to pay to be entertained and informed. Our mission is clear and coherent – it is to create great content and customise it to suit our audience around the world.

We’re in advanced discussions with other media companies around the world, all of whom have turned to our company for ideas and evolution.”

On e-readers/tablets: “Without content, these ingenious and wonderful devices would be unloved and unsold … (we are in) very substitutive conversation with device makers on developing a subscription model> that will deliver high-quality journalism to consumers whenever and whererever they want it.”

UK publisher News International reported higher October-to-December operating income in 2009 than the previous year, thanks to cost cuts and marketing cutbacks. Its advertising revenue was unchanged from the previous year and circulation income down only five percent – good achievements, considering the economic bloodbath of the last year.

News Corp.’s global operating income from newspapers and information services actually rose 30 percent to $259 million thanks to better Wall Street Journal ad sales.

News Corp.’s 39 percent stake in BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) gave it $81 million in equity earnings – more than the $57 million of the year before, when Sky was forced by regulators to write off its ITV (LSE: ITV) investment. Group-wide News Corp (NYSE: NWS) earnings grew a tenth to $8.7 billion.

Disclosure: Our publisher ContentNext is a wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian News & Media.