You can’t give the UK’s most famous and venerable daily newspaper a more crushing putdown than to call it a “newsletter”, but that’s the insult casually flicked towards the Times by US pundit Clay Shirky in his latest column on the News International paywall.
And not just a newsletter but a bulletin for the Tory Party at that.
After analysing, as many others have done, the flaky and ambiguous numbers put out by Rupert Murdoch’s team, Shirky gets properly stuck in and argues that the paywall has transformed the nature and perception of the Times as a product and a brand.
His key point is that “online, the Times has stopped being a newspaper, in the sense of a generally available and omnibus account of the news of the day, broadly read in the community. Instead it is becoming a newsletter, an outlet supported by and speaking to, a specific and relatively coherent and compact audience. (In this case the Times is becoming the online newsletter of the Tories, read much less widely than its paper counterpart.).”
No doubt his comments will be greeted with fury by News International, and glee by the Guardian and just about every other publisher that signed the protest note against the proposed takeover of BSkyB by News Corporation.
The interesting question is how will the journalists on the Times feel about it. Already a number of columnists have complained that their words of wisdom are viewed by a fraction of the previous audience, so they are bound to be hurt by Shirky’s jibe.