Avertising Revenue Slumps for UK Newspapers

New figures out in the UK paint a grim picture for the newspaper sector with press ad spending down 19 percent in 2008. Press ad spending in 2007 saw a slight increase of 4.3 percent. The radio and television sectors also saw falls last year but at least the percentage decreases weren’t in double digits. Despite the economic recession, ad spending on the internet continued to rise.

Is Sir David Running Out of Steam?

They say that old jokes are the best. But not if you hear them three times in the space of a fortnight. Sir David Frost has been in Washington DC for a couple of weeks now and been the guest speaker for a number of events, including an A-list gala dinner to celebrate  London’s Benjamin Franklin House and a bash at the Newseum for the launch of Al Jazeera English in the U.S. capital. On each occasion he starts off by saying that he was at a recent dinner where a toast-master got confused and instead of announcing, “Pray Silence for Sir David Frost”, he called the diner’s chatter to a halt by declaring, “Pray for silence from Sir David Frost.”

Another joke Frostie deploys is the one about the Thatchers and Reagans at a dinner event in the States where Ronnie spoke and introduced the Iron Lady and on the conclusion of her speech Barbara Bush got up and introduced Denis Thatcher. British press hacks present were aghast, knowing that Denis Thatcher was the publicly silent spouse who avoided speechifying at all costs. But Denis rose, buttoned up his jacket and announced: “As Julius Ceasar said on entering Cleopatra’s tent, ‘I have not come here to talk.'”

Not bad jokes but if you are being paid huge sums to give a speech, best to make some changes every now and again — especially when you are talking to the same A-listers in the same town.

Did the Election Reflect Iranian Opinion?

Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was probably being accurate when he said on State television on Tuesday night that voters, regardless of who they voted for, support the Islamic Republic. U.S. and European reporters and commentators who have little first-hand knowledge of the country have a terrible tendency to interpret events there in very Western ways.  

Polling data pulled together by Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty ahead of the elections did not pick up an impending revolution and the pollsters argued in a thoughtful article in the Washington Post on Monday that the “election results in Iran may reflect the will of the Iranian people.”  The poll they conducted by phone between May 11 and May 20 had Mahmoud Ahmadinejad enjoying a huge lead over challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi –even among Azeris. Iran, of course, is not just Tehran and too many U.S. commentators seem not to appreciate that the middle-class in Tehran don’t necessarily reflect the majority view. 

But how the regime deals with the protests aginst the results is going to be a crucial determining factor in how the Islamic Republic will be viewed in the future by Iranians. In the Ballen/Doherty poll even supporters of Ahmadinejad indicated their hope for change — more democracy, the right to vote for the Supreme Leader, and free and fair elections and a free press were seen as priorities and not just for Mousavi supporters but by those planning to vote for the incumbent president. If those hopes are crushed, even many Ahmadinejad supporters could become disaffected. The authorities are caught between a rock and a hard place: maintain a hardline position and risk widespread disaffection, back down and encourage the opposition to demand more reform.

President Obama has come in for criticism from Republicans for not being out front enough but his approach reflects real maturity and sophistication. If Washington DC starts blasting away with all rhetorical guns blazing more than likely that will help the hardliners by allowing Ahmadinejad to rally patriotic Iranians. After all surely the point is that the protests don’t mark a rejection of the Islamic Republic but a determination by some to purify and modernise it.

The Real Revolution

The struggle in Iran to ensure all votes are counted just once each is surely put into perspective by the great revolution that is being unleashed on the leafy streets of ancient country towns in England. They are marching against plastic trash bins even in Henley-upon-Thames.  The governments quakes. Hardly surprisingly, the great bin revolution as covered by the UK Daily Mail prompted 241 comments from readers. The Iran report received 13 comments.

Paying For What?

Business Week is planning to experiment with a pay wall for online content. Well, kind of. But it is clear they are hedging their bets and by doing so the magazine is communicating uncertainty. According to MediaWeek  , Business Week content will be available for free but subscribers will get a more “interesting experience”: the subscriber-only view will be print-like in presentation. That is turning the clock back to the late 1990s. In the UK, the now defunct Bonnier newspaper Business Am was the first to introduce an online print presentation, followed a few weeks later in the U.S. by the New York Times. But it wasn’t wildly popular with the online crowd. The reason being? The traditional masqerading as the innovative is a turn-off. Traditional media is still at sea about how to exploit fully digital platforms.

Business Week is hedging bets also by trying what Newsweek and Time have been trying for ages now in different forms: being more forward-leaning with their stories.  But Newsweek and Time just have not been able to pull it off in my mind. They are not good at picking the stories of tomorrow. Business Week also plans to do more on the instant business news front. Heaven knows why — that is a crowded field with Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters, the FT and Wall Street Journal. The magazine would be better served — and would better serve readers – by concentrating on what it used to do well: in depth and investigative pieces that draws together politics and business and economics.

One innovation the magazine has just introduced online does have potential. It has created a business social net. The building of community is a good way forward, that is if practitioners, economists, commentators, etc, are brought together exchanging ideas and thoughts. But will that be enough to pay the magazine’s bills?

Berlusconi: Stop Beating Up On Me

It is surprising that they have not clashed loudly before but as New York Times reporter Eric Pfanner notes European media titans Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi are hard at it now with the Italian prime Minister claiming that The Times of London has only been covering the relationship between him and 18-year-old model Noemi Letizia because Murdoch was miffed at a tax increase imposed on the Murdoch-owned Sky Italia. Murdoch counter-claim is right: The Times has been restrained in their coverage of Berlusconi compared with The Economist and Financial Times. Pfanner’s article is full of rich ironies. The first is Murdoch saying during an interview with his own business channel in the U.S. — Fox Business — that he doesn’t give orders to the editor of The Times. As anyone who has ever worked at The Times knows, he generally doesn’t have to: astute editors there know when not to cross lines and certainly all the editors I served under were very cautious about how the paper treated media stories or articles that touched on Murdoch business allies or rivals. I recall a story I wrote criticial of Pat Robertson never seeing the light of day: at the time Rupert was involved in business negotiations with Robertson about broadcasting the 700 Club on Sky in Europe.

However, Berlusconi’s accusation against Murdoch — one made without any evidence — doesn’t make sense. Murdoch is hardly going to go out of his way to irritate Berlusconi , especially while he remains in office. Berlusconi could too easily change media rules to affect Murdoch’s Italian business. Berlusconi has a tendency to push through the rubber-state parliament legislation that undermines his foes and, as Pfanner points out, Berlusoni is keen to increase his subscriber share of the satellite market in Italy as his free-channels are suffering from acute falls in advertising revenue.

That aside, the richest irony is hearing Berlusconi complaining  about someone using their media holdings for personal use. Talk about the pot calling the kettle…..