Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blind Spot

Rupert Murdock would prefer to be invisible to search engines.

Finally, something we can agree on, him and me.

In a recent Sky News interview, News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch announced that News Corp websites would be removed from search engine indexes.


I had to read that twice to make sure I’d got it right.

According to Scrooge McMurdoch, people have been getting information without actually paying for it  and that cannot be allowed to continue. "They shouldn't have had it free all the time," he said.  I can certainly sympathize with one of the world’s richest men, I can.  Poor man, sitting up there in his ivory tower, smoldering over how the rabble are robbing him blind penny by penny. One wonders how the impoverished tycoon can afford to pay the salaries of his various olive pitters, toadies, ass kissers, and food tasters (and at his age, food taster is most likely the matronly nurse who pre-chews his meals into semi-digested pap).

Murdoch’s not kidding. He actually intends to remove FoxNews, The Wall Street Journal, and other NewCorp sites from search engine indexing, effectively making his news organization invisible to the likes of Google, Ask.com, Yahoo, and even Microsoft’s Bing (show of hands, how many of you use Bing? No, really, speak up).

The crux of his complaint being: people are getting free stuff and that’s just so damned infuriating. Murdoch intends to go to a fee based revenue stream. Fee based. He wants readers to pay a subscription fee to read his online news sites. One wonders if he’ll attempt to resurrect the rest of the 1990’s Internet while he’s at it. I hope he does, I sort of miss the old CompuServe forums.

Murdoch feels that there are too many news sites competing for too few advertising clicks and he wants a return to traditional newspaper revenue streams. It never occurred to him to make his sites more interesting, so that people who surf in from aggregators might, you know, stick around and read other stories on his site. Murdoch, who through his conservative pundits and mouthpieces, bashes the current American administration for “socialism” and who champions the beacon of capitalism at every turn, doesn’t want to compete in the internet marketplace for consumer dollars – he wants it all for himself. The hypocrisy is almost poetic.

Here’s the really funny part, if TV was my primary source of news, you’d have to hold a fucking gun to my head to get me to watch Murdoch’s Fox News. But, I don’t get my news from TV, almost never.  I, like an increasing number of folks from my generation and damned near everybody in the younger generations, get my news online.  Even if I’m sitting in front of a TV with the news on, I’ve got a computer in my lap and I’m reading the news online, gathering more in-depth information than a sound bite of TV news can provide. I tend to run down side alleys when a story interests me, I tend to look for additional information, background stories, related news.  And because I use Google as my primary news aggregator – I end up on Fox News sites at least 30% to 50% of the time.  In fact, according to Google, the search engine giant directs billions of readers to news sites every single month. Billions. I don’t have hard numbers, but based on some simple analysis at least 30% of those billions of redirects are to NewsCorp sites. 

That translates into millions of readers directed to his news sites per month.


Murdoch sees this readership as worthless and something that adds no value to his bank account. 

He says that statistics show readers who come in from Google are unlikely to look at the rest of his media. They read the story they’re interested in, and that’s it, back to Google and on to the next story somewhere else. Murdoch regards this kind of reader the same way the owners of Wrigley Field regard people who watch the Cubs play from the rooftops of the adjoining apartment buildings, i.e. bloodsucking parasites.

He seems to think that enough people will actually pay subscription fees to read the WSJ and Fox News online.

Sure. Rupert, sure.

Here’s the thing, Rupert Murdoch owns a very, very large percentage of the conservative media. A large percentage of biased conservative media which is about to become invisible to internet search engines, which means those sites become invisible to the internet. Which means that his sites become invisible to an increasingly larger number of readers

From the minute Murdoch patches his HTML headers to force Google to ignore his sites, he joins CompuServe on the Island of Misfit Toys.

To an Information Warfare guy like me, the implications are staggering.

It’s likely that the entire bias of internet news media will shift far to the left.

Usually the demise of a multibillion dollar corporation is caused by a cumulative series of poor management decisions over a period of years. Rarely does it hinge on one single catastrophic decision, as I suspect this will be. It’s likely that this step will do more to silence FoxNews than anything the Obama Administration can do.

And the staunchly conservative Murdoch will have no one to blame but himself.

I’d call that poetic justice.


  1. From a tech geek's perspective, we've been scratching our heads in bemusement ever since he first started complaining about how search engines index all his precious informations to put it out on the intertubes.

    Every single search engine and automated webcrawler since almost the inception of the world wide web has honored robots.txt, but somehow this media mogul doesn't have /anyone/ on staff savvy enough to tell him about the concept?

    --Shad, who never ceases to be amazed at how badly a certain strata of the previous generation fails to grok the internet.

  2. I've dealt with News Corp technical types. Many could engineer their way out of a wet paper bag, but many can't. Guess who rises to the top?

    I voted no, at a national level, on a proposal they wanted once. They called my boss and harranged him into changing the company vote. After all my PHB figured they must know more.

    Then they tried to implement it. Instead of testing 54 items, they were testing 54! items. Had to go back to ground zero.

  3. Sometimes you just have to wonder what people like Rupert are drinking. Or smoking. Or otherwise ingesting. They're good for a laugh or two, though. And they give us something to blog about. ;-)

    Bing? I saw my Offspring use it once or twice... but she's back to using Google. And, dang, I miss some of those CompuServe forums, too.

  4. See, if they can create a news bubble around the (former) president, maybe they figure they can create a news bubble around the radical right that will keep them from dealing with the well known liberal bias of reality.

    It'll be a happy, sunny place. Were all the lawns will be maintained at the cheapest prices by the cheapest labor which then will be immediately deported after trimming the hedges.

  5. Are we sure he's not a pod people. This is too much good news to absorb. Fewer irrational conservative talking points so we can focus on the irrational left wing talking points. I welcome the good news.

  6. Jim, while my speculation in no way undermines your point, I bet there will be a fairly large number of corporations that will pay for an on-line subscription to the WSJ, just like they currently pay for hardcopy subscriptions for their executives. It's just too well-respected (by many) as a news source.

    The WSJ and the Financial Times are pretty much mandatory must-reads for corporate types in expensive suits. Though at a certain level in the corportation--say Murdoch's level--one no longer reads the news. One has it read.

  7. The level of stupidity, particularly technical stupidity, surrounding this is staggering. But so is his (mis)understanding of what drives people to any site and what keeps them there.

    I still get much my local news from the TV or area newspapers (we're so small that we only have weekly newspapers in town who only put some of their content online). I do watch a few national news shows, but most national/ international news for me comes via the web. The same is true for most of my friends, and none of us are exactly spring chickens.

    Stupid is rarely fixable. And in this case, I'm rooting heavily for not fixable. Because watching what happens if Murdoch actually carries out his threat will be great entertainment.

  8. Nick, sure that's entirely possible. But that's one subscription per how many readers? Enough to make News Corps' online ventures profitable? I doubt it.

    A much better method would be to retain as many of those readers as Google directs to his sites - for free by the way. Who's going to direct traffic to his sites, new readers, once he unplugs from Google and how much is that going to cost him? Google is the Internet for all intents and purposes, it would be cheaper to pay them them to bump News Corp up in the index. Of course, to retain readers, Murdoch would have to write interesting and balanced news stories, i.e. he'd have to spend money on decent writers and real reporters and present an actual 'fair and balanced' worldview, and that's just anathema to him.

  9. Snort.






    Sorry. I just got a mental image of the Dodo bird sporting a "Fox News" logo'd vest and I couldn't contain myself.

  10. Much of the geek consensus seems to be that he's bluffing/bullshitting for the exact reason Shad/"Anonymous" mentions in the first post: any time Murdoch said, really said, "I want off these search engines" his staff would add Fox sites to robots.txt and it would be done.

    What he hopes to gain with the bluff is a bit harder to scrutinize, though if his intent was to prompt a furor over search engine business models and how online journalism could make more money, he seems to have succeeded. One possibility, though, is that he's floating the concept to see if Microsoft or another search provider would entertain a licensing agreement--e.g. perhaps Microsoft would pay Murdoch for an agreement making Fox sites only searchable by Bing!. I'm not sure that would work--while such an exclusive deal might seem superficially attractive for a second-tier engine like Bing!, in the long run Microsoft and others actually have more to gain if they stick together and insist that data is free; after all, if a Fox exclusive deal with Microsoft actually worked, what's to keep Google from making a similar deal with CNN and the New York Times? The end result is an information apocalypse, in which search engine providers have to bid for rights to search sites, something that will not only kill the engine providers' bottom lines but sow confusion among users, which would most likely be resolved by the users simply by avoiding sites they have to switch engines to get to. I don't think Microsoft (or any of the other companies) are that stupid, so I expect his bluff will be called. (If I'm wrong, Murdoch will have proven he's crazy... crazy like a--well, you know.)

  11. Don't think I've ever been to the Fox news website, and I only watch Fox news on cable muted; there are a lot of good looking ladies on that station, and I don't want to ruin the illusion by hearing what they actually have to say.

  12. Well, Murdoch may be disappointed at the return if he tries the info subscription route.

    See, the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) tried to do that with their stacks archive services last year. Previously, if you wanted something that had appeared in the previous 7 days you just clicked on the date it appeared, found your article and read/printed it. No fuss, no muss.

    Then the AJC had this massive cut back, staff cut and reorganized the print version (it's now crap) and decided to start charging for formerly free web services. About that same time, I needed research info from an article that had been in the paper 2 days earlier. They wanted to charge me a 1 time $4.95 access fee to just read it, or around $20 for a 30 day pass to the system.

    Hells bells, I could've walk across the street to their offices and bought a copy for fifty cents!! But I stood on principle, dug deeply for a customer no-service contact address and complained. Got a rude reply from someone, then a day later same guy sent me a scanned copy PDF file of the article.

    Fast forward three months later, I get a survey link from the same guy again at AJC.com, because I'd had a complaint during the previous year. 25 or so mulitple choice questions and a couple boxes for comments. OK, I'll play.

    Last week I went to their website to find an article I wanted to look, turned out it was from earlier in the week. Guess what?? The FREE 7 day access was BACK!!!

    But they did raise the price of the weekday print version to $1.00.

  13. he joins CompuServe on the Island of Misfit Toys.

    I find this to be a little tough for those poor misfit toys. After all, it's hard enough to be a jack-in-the-box without springs without having to put up with Murdoch.

  14. Here's a little analysis that my current professor wrote on the topic.


    I like it "cutting off your nose to spite your face"

  15. Pam, I suspect, given Murdoch's advanced age that his Jack-in-the-box has been without springs for some time.

    Unfortunately for him, back there in the 90's he can't just use the Google to find a cure for that...

  16. I think the real issue here is deeper than Murdoch is capable of understanding -- he's a dinosaur left over from a staunchly capitalist era in this country, unable to adapt to changing conditions that would assist his survival. The deeper issue is cultural and evolutionary for humanity, and I sense it's going to take a long time to resolve.

    After all, we've spent hundreds of years determining the value of everything in terms of money alone. If a thing is not directly contributing to someone's bottom line, it's deemed to have no real value in our society. Oh, some will pay lip service to alternative value scales like "happiness" or "quality of life," but you don't have do do much more than scratch the surface before those same folks revert to the hard core dollar valuing system. For everything.

    The problem is that there are things in this life that do have value and that don't have an entry on a balance sheet. We are witnessing the emergence of a cultural struggle to redefine "value" as something other than money. It looks like the Internet, Google, and information tech are demonstrating where one of the leading edges is.

    I don't know how it's going to resolve. I suspect we're going to have to thrash our current models completely before we find a new one that works -- it may be quite modular and involve paying for quality, unbiased reporting -- and that it's going to be sometime down the temporal line before we do. Until then, thugs like Murdoch provide me quite a bit of entertainment value with their petty posturings.

  17. I don't get it. There is already a subscription model for the Wall Street Journal. Most of the free stuff isn't worth paying for, mostly opinion columns, some general news and blogs. The real analysis stuff, investigative journalistic articles are all only available under subscription.

    If he wants to really charge for all content, he needs to make the information in useful form. We pay for Westlaw and/or Lexis because it collates the information into a way that is absolutely essential and organized for attorneys. Foxnews.com doesn't even come close to doing that to be worthy of a subscription model.

    I don't get it. He's Rupert Murdoch. If he really wanted to remove all content from search engines than all he needed to do is give the order to his COO and that switch would've been flipped. Google makes it immensely easy to do. He's just using the same old business model tactics since the beginning of time: Extol capitalism and competition but contrive every single action to bully your way into creating a monopolstic market for the exploitation of the masses.

    - tt


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