About a year ago one of
the Old Boys of News Limited – loyal footsoldier in his time and now harrumphing
around the home fires at Holt Street – confided
to me that he had begun learning to send text messages on his mobile phone. The
reason was this speech
by Rupert Murdoch, in which he called for the troops to “grasp” the internet
and all things digital. The call had clearly come as a shock to this old codger,
but when Rupert shouts the troops do their best to jump.

More recently, rumours
have drifted around that Rupert early this year gave his local chief John
Hartigan a bit of a hurry up about the digital world. At least one senior
employee at Fairfax Digital was soon after approached to switch horses, but
declined.

This is probably the context in which to understand the move of Sunday Telegraph editor Jeni O’Dowd to a new role within News Limited. She will have specific responsibility for
marketing News Limited content on new media platforms.

Presently you can’t get News Limited content on your 3G mobile
phone, and the News Limited site is behind Fairfax in visitor
numbers, which clearly rankles at Holt
Street.

New platforms often don’t make money, of course. 3G Mobile phone
companies virtually give news based content away. Fairfax is the most
successful company so far at making money online, and the dollars aren’t huge.
It remains to be seen whether online newspapers can ever command the same
resources as their hard copy parents. But nevertheless Rupert has decided that
it’s important to have a presence.

News Limited has access to more content than any other media
organisation, and O’Dowd has been one of News’s most successful editors. Her
appointment is a sign of the local outpost of empire getting serious about the
message from on high. I suspect that Old Boy has by now learned how to text.

Peter Fray

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