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Editorial: Fox at the henhouse

Default Lines for eSchool News, print edition, May 1, 2009 — A carnivorous creature has been seen skulking about the internet henhouse, and frankly, it’s making certain chickens just a wee bit nervous. Truth be told, though, it’s you and your fellow internet surfers who really ought to be crying foul.

Keith Rupert Murdoch, with a net worth estimated at $4 billion, is the world’s 132nd richest person. Murdoch–dark lord of News Corp. (purveyor of the Fox News Channel, the New York Post, the Weekly Standard, and other right-wing outlets, as well as, since 2007, the Wall Street Journal)–wants to make more money.

Rupert Murdoch, one might say, wants to feed the hand that bytes you. In other words, he wants to get his hands on more of your money via the internet.
Intimations of his new crusade came on April 2, when Murdoch spoke in Washington, D.C., at The Cable Show, the annual convention hosted by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He said it’s time to stop Google, Yahoo, and other aggregators [hello, District Administration, T.H.E. Journal, Technology and Learning] from linking to other people’s news. It’s time, he said, to start charging web visitors for the news they get on the internet.

"People are getting used to reading everything on the net for nothing," Murdoch complained. "That’s going to have to change…somehow. They’re going to have to work out a pay model.

"…The question is, should we be allowing Google to steal all our copyrights. I don’t say ‘steal,’ just ‘take’ them, you know? All the aggregators, not just them, but Yahoo and others …

"If you’ve got a brand like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, you don’t have to do that. You can say, ‘Thank you, but no.’"
[Murdoch’s own web sites, incidentally, are profligate linkers themselves, "just taking" links to whatever content they please–as is their right.]
"They would feel that when people go to Google on a search and see a headline they like and they click," Murdoch continued, "it counts as a click for the New York Times, for which they charge extra in advertising and so on. But that’s only, I think, 10 or 15 percent of their traffic."

Moderator: "What if they did everything you’re doing with the Wall Street Journal?"

"I think they’d do fairly well," Murdoch replied. "When you’ve got a financial newspaper with the reputation of the Journal, there’s no trouble charging $60 to $100 a year solely for the web site. We have nearly a million…one million one hundred thousand people doing that, paying for it. You know, it’s not a goldmine, but it’s not bad."

Not bad…hmmm.

Maybe not bad if you’re a $2-billion-a-year Wall Street CEO. Then you can sidestep the price of the web subscription by having your company pick up the tab and write it off as a business expense. But it’s not so good if you’re just a working stiff or, say, an educator who has to shell out of her own pocketbook (or divert desperately needed school funds) to stay up-to-date on the news of the world.

Some of our education-publication colleagues–can you say The Chronicle, Ed Week, Edutopia?–seem to agree with Rupert Murdoch about charging for content. But at eSchool Media–which produces eSchool News, eCampus News, and eClassroom News–we think differently. We’ve found a way to provide the latest original news and information to educators at no cost to our readers. And others are welcome to link to our stories and resources–with our compliments.

Here’s our secret: Provide high-quality, objective editorial content to the leaders of schools and colleges. Such content draws a crowd–a combined eSchool Media print and online audience now numbering just south of 1 million educators a month. This, in turn, attracts advertisers, who pay to place their messaging before you and your fellow readers and visitors. 

As long as we maintain the bright line between editorial and advertising, this formula works. Our advertisers and sponsors benefit from exposure to a large, attractive audience, and so they make it possible to provide original editorial we can post on our web sites and print in these pages–without charging you, our readers and visitors.

As the scientists and academics who developed the internet well knew, "Information wants to be free."

We think that’s what news wants, too. And at eSchool News, that’s the way we aim to keep it: Free.

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