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John Jenkins June 10


The June column from the former editor of Writers' Forum

John JenkinsAs a publisher and editor I have been answering queries from writers for something like 20 years and as a result I have recently published a book FAQs and the Answers for Ambitious Writers.


Pay up, pay up and save the game!

By John Jenkins

This month sees the start of a revolution in how you can get your news.

Where do you get your news? From the radio, television…from newspapers…and probably online.

It’s amazing what trivia you can learn online from the websites of the BBC , Sky, ITV and newspaper websites.

Most of it is free at the point of consumption . But from this month – if you want to read The Times online, or the Sunday Times you will have to pay for the privilege.

Rupert Murdoch, the last of the great newspaper barons, has built paywalls on his service for both quality titles and eventually for his tabloids, the Sun and the News of the World.

It will cost you £2 a week or £1 for a day’s access to two new sites: or

Of course, many authors who up to now have enjoyed reading the sites free of charge have no intention of paying. Why should they when other newspapers and the BBC offer free access?

But for how long? If Murdoch succeeds you can expect all the others to follow suit.

Murdoch papers are, of course, lobbying hard to justify the charge and will wage a fierce war against the BBC being allowed to provide a free service. Ahead of the election Murdoch had a secret meeting with David Cameron just as he had secret meetings with Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair at critical points in newspaper and television coverage.

British newspapers, with one or two exceptions, are in serious trouble.

Circulations are falling and the recession has hit advertising revenue. So far the revenue gained by selling adspace on websites has not made up the shortfall.

It has happened from quality papers to tabloids. The once bestselling Mirror is down from 5 million to below 2 million. The Express, once a proud broadsheet selling more than 4 million a day, cannot muster one million. Even the Daily Telegraph is down from 1.4 million to 800,000.

The Sunday Times has stayed steady above the million mark and the Daily Mail tops 2 million while the Sun rules the roost with nearly 3.5 million.

Garnet, the American owners of Newsquest, came over to Britain years ago to buy up provincial papers like the Bournemouth Echo which it saw as cash cows. An evening paper selling 50,000 a day and rolling in pages and pages of pre-paid classified and property advertising provided rich pickings. Now they are cutting out editions, and cutting staff to the bone.

Some have even tried emailing copy to India for page layout rather like BT exported its call centre jobs.

The Guardian and Observer, which lost £90 million last year, have sold their Manchester Evening News, once one of the richest and best evening papers in the land.
The writing has been – if not on the wall – certainly in the balance sheets for years.

Why do people – or rather why did – people, particularly commuters, buy evening papers?

For the racing results? But that was before betting shops were introduced and all you had to do was pop in on the way home to look at the results in the shop. For the latest stock exchange prices? You can dial those up on your phone? Same with the football results or scores from Wimbledon.

All evening papers used to print Saturday specials – usually on pink or green paper with all the day’s sports results. Pink uns and Green uns were part of the Saturday experience. They gave that up as a bad job years ago.

For the property ads? For the job ads? Well more and more people do not bother with newspapers but merely go to a variety of websites.

Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester once boasted two healthy evening papers. London boasted three. Now these great cities have only one and some do not even charge a cover price. They are given away.

Then there’s the rise of the free sheets. Mostly they are poorly produced with shoddy news coverage and no crusading zeal or intention of providing anything accurate or controversial.

So you can see why managements and shareholders and even writers are waiting agog to see if Murdoch can succeed.

I think The Times has a better chance than any other paper. It is looked upon, particularly abroad, as a paper of record and a purveyor of news coverage you can trust. I see the Times airmail edition fading away.

Supporters of the paywall scheme can quote the odd magazine and newspaper which expects and takes payment. These include the Financial Times – which can clearly be charged as a business expense, and magazines like Press Gazette and Jane’s Defence Review.

Should we be paying the BBC £145 a year for it to compete with magazine publishers – none of whom can afford the type of publicity the corporation can give a motoring, gardening or cooking title? Or the quality of website it provides.

Certainly every act of stupidity, like paying Jonathan Ross £6million a year, will undermine the BBC case for more money– especially as Sky and other satellite providers offer an alternative service for a fraction of the price.

James Murdoch, son of Rupert, is the chief executive of News International Europe.

This is what he said last week when The Times and the Sunday Times announced they were cutting 70 jobs for journalists.

"We are one of the largest employers of journalists and editors and maintain an incomparable range of foreign correspondents, contributors and bureaux in all sorts of places. We attach a fair value and a fair price to the journalism we produce. What is so controversial about that?"

Nobody can argue with Murdoch minor on that point. But if 90% of the content is available free of charge elsewhere News International will make Icelandic Banks look like a good investment.

The omens are not good. In a survey 93 per cent of people said they would not pay for online access to news.

As for me, I don’t want to waste time looking at newspaper websites – free or paid for. I think a newspaper should be able to report news concisely and fully without operating what are, in the main, rubbishy sites backed up by equally fatuous unedited comment.

Specialist magazines, which large chains and supermarkets do not want to stock, are a different matter.

Furthermore, I do not want pages of puzzles, ancient CDs, overblown pictures, scratch cards and other gimmicks – just the news, straight.

How long did it take for authors to squeeze something out of the libraries and for the Public Lending Right to be active?

We must all, authors of fiction and writers of features, wish Mr Murdoch luck – however much it might hurt.


John Jenkins' May column dealt with How to kickstart a biography or family history.


If you have a question you would like John to answer please email it to:

The latest book from John Jenkins is FAQs and the Answers for Ambitious Writers

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