Who is this?

Technology Editor of Times of London until July 2010. Now swimming in the freelance shark pool, with abiding interest in games, gadgets and what it all means. If you're looking for product reviews, head elsewhere. Unless it's a really nice product. This is more of an attempt to sift out what matters from what doesn't. With a bit of gossip thrown in for good measure. I'm also learning to use Blogger as I go along, so please bear with me.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

On leaving The Times

Since this is my first blog, I suppose I should talk about leaving The Times, where I worked for seven years, first in charge of the weekend arts supplement The Knowledge, then as Technology Editor.

In mid-June, I was told that those in charge had decided to axe the role of Technology Editor, and a generous offer was made to me to bugger off. Which I have done.

There's lots I could say about the decision and the management of the paper, but since it might be both tedious and libellous I won't bother.

I will say this, though. Whatever you may read about Rupert Murdoch, he treats his staff better than any employer I have worked for in over 20 years of journalism. Just don't expect to retire from one of his papers.

I ought to say something too about the paywall, which means that www.thetimes.co.uk is now a paid site.

Ideologically (especially from my post-employment chair), the case for payment for online content is compelling. Writing and reporting costs money, and that money has got to come from somewhere.

If someone doesn't crack a way of making it work, we will be back in the age of the gentleman/lady journalist in a flash, adrift in a deluge of uninformed or unprovable comment.

Don't get me wrong: amateur online content can be brilliant, immediate in a way the pros rarely manage, and there are great journalists working for little or nothing online.

But the established media currently act as a check/balance to the worst excesses of both those in power and the internet, and the prospect of their demise would leave us all the poorer. Without them, spin would win.

Anyway, to return to The Times paywall. As one insider recently said to me: "The problem with the paywall isn't the pay. It's the wall."

The registration process is off-putting and complex, and the current dispute with Google (which no longer trawls The Times for search results) means that readership has fallen off a cliff.

But does it all matter? I have no privileged access to the thoughts of Mr Murdoch (far from it), but if I were in his shoes I'd have written the internet off as a bad job a while ago. Make the site minimal, stick the newspaper up there with what little advertising you can attract, then move on to making apps for Apple and Android, which people will pay for because the payment process is relatively painless.

The danger with the current Times approach is that there is no longer a mechanism there to attract new readers and prove that it isn't as stuffy as its masthead and history might lead you to believe.

The site is promoted in the Times newspaper, but is invisible to casual online users, while the iPad app has performed well at £9.99 per month, but the first real test is coming about now, when renewal demands will be sent out.

OK, that's all I have to say about The Times. Next post will be about something more interesting.

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