The future of News: from one oligarch to the next?

In the wake of a punch to the face from phone-hacking-Leveson-scandalous-British-naughtiness, and a kick to the balls from shrinking print revenues, News Corporation is contemplating splitting its TV assets from its print ones.

The plan would be to remove the newspaper drag from the share price, and hopefully bypass some of the regulatory fallout from News International’s behaviour. In Australia, that’d mean the Foxtel, FoxSports and Sky stakes going into ‘Good News’, and the papers, magazines and book publishing (HarperCollins) going into ‘Bad News’.

An obvious problem here is that Bad News would be, well, bad news.

The analysts at Nomura have worked out what the historic and forecast income statements would be for both demerged companies. They’re projecting that, despite the newspaper division halving in profit (EBIT) in 2012, future profit declines will only be in the region of 5% a year – and that global newspaper division (including digital) revenues will show slight overall growth. Nomura values the print company worldwide at around US$3-4 billion.

To me, that sounds optimistic. 2012 is going to be particularly awful for the newspaper division because it’s the financial year after the cash cow of the News of the World was killed, sure. Nonetheless, looking at Fairfax’s position, the Guardian’s position, News Limited’s announced cuts in Australia, the Times and Australian’s massive losses, and the ongoing march of often free, often superior (albeit seldom both) online news sources, growing sales even at the rate of inflation seems like a pipedream.

Supposedly, the WSJ’s finances are in a better state than most of the other titles, because people actually pay for business information online. The four remaining sensational big city tabloids in the group – the UK Sun, New York Post, Sydney Daily Telegraph and Melbourne Herald Sun – likely still make money, since they were never reliant on classified advertising. But the Times and the Australian are reported to lose vast sums annually, despite the imposition on both of draconian paywalls which very few people have taken up, and which mean that they form no part of the online conversation.

(the Times recently started a Tumblr for some of its opinion content, in a desperate attempt to maintain some kind of relevance to the outside world…)

Now, Rupert Murdoch is 81, and his children show absolutely no interest in taking over the print business. And Bad News would be a publicly traded company with shareholder obligations.

When you’re a vehicle for an oligarch to promote his corporate interests to politicians, in the way Mr Murdoch has used his papers for the last 50 years, bunging tens of millions of dollars a year into a respectable-opinion-leading project like the Australian or the Times can get you results far in excess of your investment: tax reliefs, exemptions from competition laws, broadcasting licenses, etc.

But once you break the link with the corporation that benefits from the regulatory corruption, lose the oligarch to retirement/senility/Old Father Time, and lose the ability to shape national conversation by excluding your pieces from most modern forms of sharing and discussion, then really, what’s the point?

So the only way for the Times and the Oz to survive is to be sold to some kind of oligarch who’d benefit from their advocacy. In London, you can barely throw a stick and not hit some overseas billionaire or other, so that should be easy enough.

In Australia – now, who might be interested in buying a voice in the national conversation? Who easily has the money to continue publishing the Australian, tearing down the paywall, making it into perhaps (if Fairfax’s desperate plans are followed through) the only free source of premium news and commentary in the country? Who has a conveniently close ideological position to the one the Australian is already pushing? And who’s just been rebuffed in her attempt to gain control of a couple of newspapers whose readers and editorial staff are completely opposed to her ideological position?

Gina for the Oz. You read it here first!

All open letters are pathetic in the same way

Inspired by the “send a letter to the Government of Ecuador” left-meme, here’s my letter to the Government of Ecuador:

Dear the Government of Ecuador. You’ve got a slightly disturbing Cuba-light personality cult going, and Julian Assange is an autistic pervert who I wouldn’t let within a hundred yards of any female friends or relations. Nonetheless, the Yanks are still probably mad enough to torture the hell out of the poor sod for the rest of his natural life for making them look silly, so saving him from that one is an excellent PR opportunity for yourselves. Best, John. PS, I love your song (*).

I’m sure this will address matters.

* this one, I mean.

If we had the same sports, we might properly fight

List of significant winter sports and the teams who play them seriously who are from English-speaking countries

American Football (USA)
Australian Football (AUS)
Ice Hockey (CAN, USA)
Rugby League (AUS, GB[ENG],NZ)
Rugby Union (GB [ENG, IRE, SCO, WAL], NZ)
Soccer (GB [ENG,SCO,WAL,NI], IRE)

List of significant winter sports and the serious teams who play them seriously who are from non-English-speaking countries

Ice Hockey (SWE, NOR, FIN)
Rugby League (FRA)
Rugby Union (FRA)
Soccer (THE ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD, SERIOUSLY, THE ONLY FUCKING GAME, NO, ENGLISH SPEAKING PEOPLE ARE WEIRD)

A man of genius makes no mistakes

“[Great Blasket] island was inhabited until 1953, when the Irish government decided that it could no longer guarantee the safety of the remaining population. It was the home of three noted Irish writers: Tomás Ó Criomhthain, Peig Sayers and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin” - some slightly ropy web slideshow.

It’s a fair call. There is absolutely no effing way I would consider myself safe if sharing a small island with three noted Irish writers. One, you could overpower. Two, you could feed them whiskey and song until the one killed the other. But three? Jaysus.

Relatedly, happy Bloomsday.

The sun is, most likely, still gonna shine in November

After a massively high-spending recall campaign, a controversial Republican state governor has held onto power with a slightly increased majority (while losing control of the state senate). Naturally, the oh-so-left-wing US media are spinning this as Terrible Democrat Defeat, Disaster Due for November, etc.

To highlight the fact that this spin is absolute dingoes’ kidneys, it’s been pointed out that the Walker campaign spent $7 for every $1 his opponent could muster, which is not really a feasible plan for the November election (no, not even for someone with Mitt Romney’s wallet).

This figure is slightly unfair: the difference wasn’t as stark between interest groups which didn’t donate directly to the campaign. Not much less stark, though. Some quick-and-dirty analysis on CNN’s handy “who gave what” piece shows that we have:

Walker $30.5m
Named R lobby groups $16.9m
Estimated R lobby groups* $0.8m
Total R $48.2m (71% of total)

Barrett $3.9m
Named D lobby groups $14.9m
Estimated D lobby groups* $0.7m
Total D $19.4 (29% of total)

So the Republicans only need to manage to outspend the Democrats by 2.5:1 in November. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

They’ll also need a charismatic candidate who’s become popular among independents (17% of Walker voters currently say they’ll go for Obama in November) through being fiscally conservative but avoiding the social culture war. That’ll be nice and easy for them.

* The “estimate” is where I’ve split the outside donations that aren’t named to specific groups between the parties according to the split of named groups. If you ignore it instead, you get 72%/28%.

100% true, 100% of the time

From Ian B at Tim’s place:

The problem with a society in the grip of a moral panic- an example is the Gay Panic that started in Victorian England- is that it does not recognise it. The hysterical and extreme behaviours exhibited by panickers are considered not only normal, not even just desirable, but effectively obligatory. It’s quite interesting to note that the paedophile as folk devil has almost perfectly replaced the homosexual as folk devil, with only the degree of hysteria being even greater. The fact that many of the victims of this witch hunt are not, as noted above, even recognisably suffering from the aberration described as paedophilia does not matter, because unfortunately when it’s witch huntin’ season all that matters is that one joins in with the hunt (or raise suspicions that one is worthy of becoming the quarry).

…and this is why we throw people in jail for possession of Simpsons slashfic and manga. Even though only a certifiable lunatic could consider such an outcome just, The Great And The Good don’t want to march in the streets in defence of Someone Who Might Be A Nonce.