News Ltd CEO John Hartigan has used a National Press Club address this afternoon to launch a savage attack on online media while threatening to close News Ltd’s Press Gallery offices and focus less on “the politics of politics” and more on “hyper-local news” such as shopping and traffic information.

Hartigan also used the address — read at times haltingly from a teleprompter and broadcast on the advertising-free ABC — to extensively promote News Ltd’s recent changes and boast of how well it had covered the Victorian bushfires earlier this year.  He also claimed that the company’s newspapers would prosper while mastheads in the UK and the US collapsed in the face of the challenge of new media.

The News Ltd boss warned that political coverage needed to change because readers had lost interest in it, as evidenced by opinion polling following the fake email affair, and caused a stir amongst his own staff – many of whom were present for the address – when he said he had a longstanding desire to close News Ltd’s large Press Gallery facilities and move political journalists into offices elsewhere in Canberra.  He also wanted greater turnover of its political journalists.

Hartigan attacked sites such as Crikey which, he claimed, have little original content and offer only commentary on mainstream media publications, before going on to spruik News Ltd’s new comment website, The Punch.  He also several times endorsed the views of web entrepreneur and blogging critic Andrew Keen who has called online journalism “digital narcissism” that “poisons debate”, lowers its users and fails to maintain a proper traditional distinction between journalists and readers.  Hartigan also echoed the attacks of more senior News Ltd figures on content aggregators like Google, warning the company was actively looking for ways of disseminating its content as widely as possible without aggregators coming between the company and audiences.  He also flagged greater moves toward subscription content, arguing online readers generated only one-tenth of the advertising revenue of hard copy readers, and noting the Wall Street Journal had successfully moved to a subscription model.

Pressed on whether publications had acted ethically in publishing the forged utegate email as real, Hartigan claimed Julia Gillard, who today attacked News Ltd publications, was merely reacting to the company’s campaign against educational stimulus spending and that the company’s papers had behaved appropriately, although they had early deadlines and had acted to correct inaccuracies.

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Peter Fray
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