Was the Oz right to stop tweets from iiNet trial?

Liam Tung wasn’t the only Australian journalist providing up-to-the-minute coverage of the trial between Perth-based ISP iiNet and the Australian Federation against Copyright Theft (AFACT). See: When Twitter is great journalism.

Until Monday Andrew Colley from The Australian was also tweeting regular reports in addition to his regular reporting duties.

Colley ran into technical problems. But he was ultimately ordered to stop by managers at the News Corporation newspaper.

Although it may have got him into hot water, Colley deserves praise for pioneering what is already proving a viable alternative news channel.

Twitter isn’t going to replace conventional journalism – 140 character tweets are not enough to convey complex ideas – but it complements traditional news reporting.

Hidebound, timid, sensible?

Some commentators see The Australian as hidebound or out of touch with modern technology for banning tweeted reports. They have good reason.

The newspaper’s representatives have a point when they say there are legal risks associated with a high-profile publication sending unfiltered messages directly from the scene of a breaking news story.

On the other hand, this doesn’t bother the BBC, which allows tweets and even provided Twitter coverage of The Ashes cricket series earlier this year. And it clearly doesn’t bother ZDNet.

Where’s the money

Don’t forget journalism is a trade and newspapers, web sites and other media outlets are businesses.  News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, the founder and owner of The Australian newspaper has already voiced his concern online news sites don’t pay their way.

But at least web sites can display advertising and earn some revenue. There’s no obvious way to make money from offering a Twitter news feed.

ZDNet is experimenting. It also publishes Liam Tung’s tweets on a conventional web page with online advertising. There’s some value and traffic coming from the feed – but on its own probably not enough to pay Tung’s salary.

The Australian has higher overheads than ZDNet. There’s a danger a Twitter feed could not only fail to generate revenue. It may replace revenue-generating news reports.

This is an issue that goes beyond the current paid content argument and something likely to stifle Twitter’s growth as a new channel.

4 thoughts on “Was the Oz right to stop tweets from iiNet trial?

  1. Don’t agree re your final comment – both @LiamT and @AndrewColley have created goodwill for their respective traditional outlets that will have me at least looking out for their writings online. Of course, those online writings are also freely available and, to that extent, twitter is just part of the wider free vs paid struggle for newspapers. But, if they don’t compete with the immediacy of equally expert bloggers and tweeps (and there are plenty of experts in the ICT area at least), they won’t stand a chance – the leakage away from traditional news sources will become a flood.

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    • @Rick Shera – Fair enough Rick. I understand where you’re coming from. But I’m sure there are people in the Murdoch camp who’d say “you can’t eat goodwill” or something similar.

      My point is this needs to be viewed in the context of newspapers like The Australian and The National Business Review going back to asking readers to pay for content.

      As for me. I’ve been a professional journalist for almost 30 years and I’ll carry on tweeting.

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  2. I think you’re overlooking something here, Bill. Liam has been filing daily news stories from the court *and* providing the live tweeting.

    Traffic to the news stories and debate on our site about the issue has increased as a direct consequence of Liam’s live tweeting. It hasn’t been decreasing.

    Because of the tweeting, readers (some of whom hadn’t previously been regular ZDNet.com.au readers) have been attracted to the site and now see Liam as having an authority on the trial. We’ve had a number of people comment that they have now subscribed to our site RSS feed as a direct consequence etc.

    Secondly, does everything that journalists do directly pay the bills? Of course not. We have coffees with sources, attend events which we sometimes don’t write articles about, give speeches at conferences and so on.

    But it all adds up to a bigger picture. Ultimately, Rick’s right. We need to continue to serve our audiences’ information needs, whatever those needs may be. And using Twitter is clearly something our audience wants.

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    • @Renai – Yes the earlier story makes Liam’s dual mode coverage of the trial clear, but you’re right I didn’t repeat the point here so it isn’t clear.

      I think what ZDNet is doing works for ZDNet. Attracting fresh readers and building the site’s overall media footprint is important. You know your business model and what works. Tweeting offers value to your readers which is an important part of your philosophy.

      That’s not where News Corporation is these days. Rightly or wrongly Rupert Murdoch wants to make the company’s online business more profitable.

      He says it’s necessary to finance the teams of reporters etc behind large scale media operations like The Australian. I suspect it also has something to do with wanting to return to the days of 20 percent return on capital that big media enjoyed briefly at the end of the twentieth century.

      Either way, the bean counters at News Corporation will see Twittering as a cost centre. And other managers will see it as a risk.

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