News Corp. makes digital journalism moves

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. bought an electronic reading platform developed by Hearst on Monday and invested in a company which seeks to help news organizations make money on the Web.

The acquisition of e-reader platform Skiff from US newspaper and magazine publisher Hearst Corp. and the investment in Journalism Online are the latest moves in Murdoch's campaign to get readers to pay for content online.

Financial terms of the agreements were not disclosed, but Journalism Online said News Corp. had bought a minority stake in the company launched by three US media executives last year and would have a seat on the five-member board.

"Today's developments underscore News Corporation's ongoing commitment to create strong business models that support journalism at a time of great change in our industry," News Corp. chief digital officer Jon Miller said.

"Both Skiff and Journalism Online serve as key building blocks in our strategy to transform the publishing industry and ensure consumers will have continued access to the highest quality journalism," he said in a statement.

As print advertising revenue evaporates and circulation erodes, US newspaper and magazine publishers have been looking to carve out a future on the Internet and with e-readers and mobile devices.

Murdoch has announced plans to eventually make readers pay for online access to all of the newspapers in the vast News Corp. stable.

The Wall Street Journal, a News Corp. title, currently charges for full online access and The Times and Sunday Times are poised to become the first newspapers in Britain to begin charging readers on the Web.

Skiff is an e-reading platform designed to deliver layouts for newspaper and magazine content to tablet computers, smartphones, e-readers and netbooks.

Skiff has also been developing an e-reader but the acquisition announcement from News Corp. did not mention any plans for the device, which has yet to hit the market and has been overshadowed by the release of Apple's iPad.

The Wall Street Journal, citing "a person familiar with the matter," said News Corp. was not interested in the Skiff e-reader and plans to fold Skiff into the rest of the company instead of letting it operate independently.

The Journal added that Skiff and Journalism Online could become the backbone of News Corp.'s plans for news outlets to collaborate on strategies and sales of digital subscriptions and advertising.

Journalism Online was launched in April 2009 with the goal of helping newspapers and magazines collect revenue from their online readers.

Journalism Online said Monday that over 1,500 publishers around the world have signed letters of intent to use its "Press+" e-commerce platform.

"Earlier this month, the first publishers to launch paid access began integrating the Press+ platform, which they are now in the final stages of testing and adjusting before launching their initial offerings to their readers," Journalism Online co-founder Steve Brill said in a statement.

"As we continue to talk to publishers about Press+, being able to assure them that we have both the resources and support of a major strategic partner will be enormously helpful," added Gordon Crovitz, another co-founder.

"Indeed, News Corp. is the industry leader in making the case that there is value in journalism online for which readers will be willing to pay," he said.

News Corp. also announced Monday that Jon Housman, who has been a strategic adviser to the company for several years, had been named president of News Corp.'s digital journalism initiatives.

"We believe in Journalism Online's vision, and that the flexible technology solution they have created will help a lot of organizations to monetize their valuable content," Housman said.

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