‘The General News Business Is Dead – RIP’

Some debates circling the industry currently got down to brass tacks at a Westminster Media Forum conference on The Future Of News on Thursday…

Newspapers are not in the sharp news game – we haven’t been for some time,” said Trinity Mirror’s digital director Matt Kelly, baldly. “We started to lose that role with the take-up of radio in the 1920s. Breaking news in newspapers is the exception rather than the rule. We’re (now) in the audience business.

Repeating his favoured belief that publishers should stop courting search traffic: “It’s something of a crime when a newspaper of long established values decides to chuck those values overboard in favour of a disengaged audience. I think it’s editorial prostitution and long-term commercial suicide.

Can we charge successfully for general news? Not a chance, not with the BBC pumping it out by the barrel-load. The general news business is dead – and if all you’ve got in the tank is general news, then rest in peace.”

BBC newsroom had Mary Hockaday responded: “The BBC is just one player in this … there are many news providers.”

And then, a rather entertaining bare-knuckle verbal sparring between Kelly and fellow panelist Struan Bartlett, CEO of news aggregator NewsNow

— Kelly: “Parasitic businesses like Struan’s have been feeding off the content we produce and are eroding the value of our business … an organism that feeds off the host and depends on the host for survival.

— Bartlett: “If we’re so parasitic, why did you get so angry when we stopped linking to MirrorFootball at the start of the year?”

— Kelly: “People can find MirrorFootball in Google (NSDQ: GOOG) – they’re not morons. You have no business without us, we have a business without you – so you are definitively a parasite.”

As we reported of late, NewsNow is now blocked from crawling News International sites and from Mirror.co.uk sites, though the gist of the argument is that Barlet voluntarily stopped crawling Kelly’s sites first. Kelly claims the resulting traffic loyalty has increased from an average three pages per user to over five pages per user, because visitors are less promiscuous.

After recently separating out Mirror.co.uk’s football and celeb gossip in to separate sites – MirrorFootball.co.uk and 3am.co.ukKelly told me they’re exceeding their own commercial expectations and more spin-offs are planned…