Last week I described ABC Managing Director Mark Scott’s landmark speech as a pre-emptive strike against those who would wish us to pay for viewing news and other content. The battle between pay models and public broadcasting would be one of the main battles of the new media century, I said.

Predictably, News Limited has today returned fire in The Australian’s media section. The rhetorical return is in this piece from News Digital Media CEO Richard Freudenstein. He takes it right up to Scott with an attack on the taxpayer-pays model. All this is pretty much what one could expect.

But much more interesting is Mark Day’s column, which for the first time to my knowledge, gives us  insight into how Murdoch plans to exercise his pay model. Of course the old dog (adept at learning new tricks) is not planning to simply erect a pay wall around existing offerings. This column is a return to form for Day, and essential reading for anyone who wants to take part int his debate from henceforth.

Day talks about a special “skunk works” being established in Sydney, code name 2011, operating in secret to rethink what News Limited does.

I gather the aim is to create sites that appeal to various user groups, built in the style of social networks. Some will be aimed at youth markets, others at the so-called working families, others at upmarket, culturally influenced, older audiences. Some will be defined by geography (that is, city or regionally oriented); others by specific interests.

They will be hybrid sites with open-access for all the breaking news that is currently provided free today. It won’t cost you to learn of a plane crash, a government initiative, or a sporting result.

Beyond the open pages will be a raft of services and specialised information. A clue may be taken from the launch last week of Times Plus in Britain — a site majoring in culture and travel initiatives, where subscribers to The Times and Sunday Times will have automatic access, and non-subscribers will be asked to pay pound stg. 50 ($88.65) a year to join the club. On offer are travel deals, tickets to film and theatre previews, discount book offers, cross-promotional offers for pay-TV services, upgrades on airlines, and so on. I figure it’s no coincidence that many of the offers have a listed value of pound stg. 50 — the same as the joining fee.

As well as the value-added shopping aspects of the site, there’s a blog facility for the exchange of views and other user input. It’s a virtual community designed for the typical Times reader — upmarket, well-off, older folk with the time and money to fund a peripatetic, cultural lifestyle.

Meanwhile this story gives us another insight into how Murdoch will work – by charging not only the end viewer of content, but also those who transmit it – the Googles and Yahoos among them.

More commentary on all this from me in the Crikey email today.