O'Reilly versus Murdoch, are newspapers worth it?

O’Reilly has again been trumpeting print newspapers this time calling them the “ultimate browser”.

The response of Independent News & Media, the owner of The Independent and The Independent On Sunday, to the march of new media had been measured and thoughtful, he said.

Sir Anthony said he believed we are in another period of wild stock-market overstatement for a certain class of media assets. Although this period would pass, in the meantime conventional media – terrestrial TV, cable, radio, newspapers and magazines – had been relegated in many investors’ minds to a “show me your model status”.

Speaking at the company’s annual meeting in Dublin, Sir Anthony said the multiplication of media devices which concentrate on the individual’s needs at any given point had made it much more difficult to aggregate large audiences.

In these circumstances, TV, newspapers and magazines, and to a degree radio, remained the best and the only way for mass audiences for goods and services to be created. However, the internet could yield an extraordinary opportunity to the newspaper industry on the production side in putting together its products at a much lower cost.

“If we exempt newsprint, the real cost of newspapers lies in putting them together – writing them, editing them, producing pages, getting them camera-ready, producing plates, printing, and finally in distribution,” Sir Anthony said.

Asked after the meeting whether he would sell his London-based titles, which are loss-making, he insisted: “No, absolutely not.”

Now this debate has been raging since before I started putting pixels online. What is the place of newspapers in a world where the Internet offers a far cheaper, and some would say more efficient means of distribution?

The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, recently mounted a robust defence of journalism and of printed newspapers, dismissing reports that the death knell has sounded for “old media”. This is at the same time as the Guardian becomes the “first British national newspaper to offer a “web first” service that will see major news by foreign correspondents and business journalists put online before it appears in the paper.”

The Guardian has blazed the trail for blogging, all the way back to the first Guardian blog awards in 2002. The new commentisfree portal now boasts 50,000 reader comments and 2 million montly page impressions since launching in March. Rusbridger also says things like:

“What we’re doing, which no newspaper has ever done before, is to take your elite stable of columnists, who are paid, and pitch them into the same space as people who aren’t paid,” he said.

“What is professional journalism and what isn’t, and how do they share the same space? We’re making this up as we go along.”

Have a listen to Rusbridger speak at an RSA lecture here too.

So what is happening? I’m waiting to see, but I think O’Reilly has the wrong idea and is taking an unnecessarily defensive line with regard to new media. I will be posting more about this topic.