Peter Worthington has had an amazing life. And his obituary, which he wrote himself, certainly has an arresting opening line.
Each week I begin my Monday with John Humphrey’s talking humorously but seriously about a topic my sleepy brain fails to contemplate. As I realise a decent level of consciousness and concentration, I whack the on button of my laptop and fire up the internet for a browse of the headlines.
Mozilla Firefox has a helpful drop down bar where I can scan the headlines and select my first news story of the day. Clicked on, I am transferred to the BBC news site and instantly add to traffic which is killing the newspaper industry.
Many people like to absorb the news via the internet because it allows them to approach it in a non-linear and very selective way. Moreover, the news pops up at the touch of button and there hasn’t been the inconvenience of putting on clothes and leaving the house. But, all of these reasons are not critical. After all, you can flick through a paper to the good bits, or as many people do, start at the back and backwards. While, the inconvenience of leaving the house is solved by a local paperboy.
The real bonus of internet news is that it is free.
So why not start charging for news consumption?
Simple. The BBC.
If the BBC had launched a free newspaper there would have been uproar. But, it has launched a non-paper based one through the back door. When The Times started charging, it lost hits. The Financial Times has only managed to keep its readership up because it is specialised. But, for any other self-respecting paper, it knows it cannot keep a decent proportion of audience if it even thinks of charging.
The Guardian and the Mail Online are example of successful websites, but both are aware that if they charged, another would provide a similar service free of charge. So, the sensible thing would be for all the editors, shareholders and directors to come together and make a pact. Their only barrier, of course, is the BBC.
Some may feel at this point I am being over-simplistic and there is probably a case for that. But, it must be recognised that for all the tribulations of newspapers and media corporations recently, the main players are the most trusted and respected news outlets. If someone wants something verified they do not go on hotmail news or yahoo news, they go on an established institutions web page or pick up a copy of the paper.
All the while that Leveson commands attention, newspapers and their owners have a bigger fear looming over them. The Guardian and The Times cannot support the huge losses. Nor, can other slightly better off papers. It is time for the government to look at the BBC and realise that its easy to use, well laid out and well written news pages are destroying what chance newspaper have of surviving for longer than the next decade.
On the other hand, removing the BBC and charging for newspaper websites could lead to Google, Microsoft or foreign media monopolising the British public’s news intake.