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The UK newspaper industry: a harbinger for media trends globally?

Cision Europe Head of Digital Strategy Paul MillerThis post was contributed by Paul Miller, head of digital strategy for Cision UK.

Over the last couple of weeks the UK media has had the chance to report on one of its very favourite topics: the UK media.

The story in question involved revelations of systematic cell phone hacking by reporters at the News of the World (or the News of the Screws as the UK’s bestselling Sunday paper is commonly known on account of its liking for flesh). Better yet, the activity in question occurred at a time when the paper’s editor was Andy Coulson, the man now in charge of communications for David Cameron’s opposition Conservative party.

Coulson has this week been giving his side of the story to MPs from across the British political spectrum. But while further official action against the paper itself seems unlikely, even informal pressure to rein in such activity adds to the newspaper industry’s current woes.

Reporters who no longer feel able to get the story at all costs – and there is little doubt that the availability of subterfuge was among the advantages of scale that news organisations have traditionally enjoyed – will struggle to maintain their canonical position within the news cycle, particularly when the competition is not held to the same standards.

TMZ not only scooped the rest of the media with its report of Michael Jackson’s death, it also scooped the official pronouncement of death by six whole minutes. More recently, TechCrunch’s reports on Twitter’s revenue-generating plans based on documentation obtained by a hacker seem unlikely to prompt much more than a bout of hand-wringing in the tech blogosphere.

Against this backdrop, Rupert Murdoch is openly musing about micropayments, the New York Times is asking whether its readers would countenance monthly subscription fees online, European publishers are petitioning regulators for more protection from Google, and, here in the UK, the organisation responsible for enforcing copyright on most national newspaper content has unveiled plans to charge aggregators for links.

Any business model built on paid content assumes that the content is special enough to be worth paying for. The events of the last two weeks add to the feeling that that’s just the kind of content newspapers will find increasingly hard to create.

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