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Murdoch has been bringing back the lost art of market segmentation to news. And this time, it may be about the Times. 6/28/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Market segmentation, Murdoch, NY Times.

An excellent interview in Time magazine suggests that Rupert Murdoch’s entire schtick may be about returning to the market segmentation practices of newspapers of the 19th century. Back then, there were political newspapers for readers who particularly enjoyed politics, and mercantile papers for the more business-minded. At various times, there were separate papers for Democrats, Republicans, Whigs, and Federalists. For the downscale, there was the “Penny Press” (literally 1¢ at newsstands) filled with stories focusing on crime, sex, human interest, and resentment of the rich. For the “respectable public,” there was less titillating news of business and government.

But, the 20th century Modern Journalism movement changed all that. Suddenly we were told that the only news really worth reporting was news of government. That news was to be about serious matters only, told in a serious way. That opinion was a contaminant that had to be surgically removed and isolated from facts by professional journalists. That it was possible to identify objectively a handful of news stories from among the infinite number available and present them as “the national conversation.”

Rupert Murdoch has been having none of that. He bought tabloids in London and New York and developed them to appeal even more to their relatively downscale audiences. He bought the respectable Times of London and increased its appeal to an upscale audience. He saw an opening in cable TV and developed a news channel that appealed to an under-served conservative audience.

And now you can almost hear the market segmentation gears turning in his head when he says “the New York Times [has] got the only position as a national elitist general-interest paper…It has a huge influence. And we’d love to challenge it.” How would he do this with a property like the Wall Street Journal? By creating more compelling news from the private sector? By appealing to those who tire of the Times’ Upper East Side sensibilities, contempt for the whole idea of classified information, indifference to the survival of Israel, or overkill coverage of “pc” topics like the gender imbalance at the Augusta Country Club? We will likely soon witness a gutsy attempt at “divide and conquer” directed at the NY Times, and Rupert Murdoch is not to be underestimated.


1. Chris B. - 7/5/07

One thing that needs to be addressed is that the simple tabloid vs. respectable segmentation paradigm is too one-dimensional and boring. I’m interested in obscure things like what Richard Weaver thought about Occam’s Razor, but I’m also interested in the LA Mayor messing around with the Telemundo hottie. Other than Camile Paglia, there’s almost no one who can illuminate the truly interesting. The New York Times has became unreadible, and People Magazine is written like it is straight from PR flacks just released from a PC workshop. But someone who can see the fascinating intersection (kind of like Drudge does) and then write about it compellingly could make a gold mine.

2. Steve Boriss - 7/5/07

Chris — Yes, I think all that is coming. I’m envisioning a highly fragmented, web-based news marketplace appealing to full spectrums of ideologies, demographics, and interests. People will participate in many of these news sites. There will be consolidation toward the best, but they will shift with changes in the public’s composition and interests.

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