The Punch: Not bad, not brilliant

June 1, 2009 — 5 Comments

News Ltd (the Australian arm of News Corp) has launched The Punch, its much rumored foray into conversational media.

Off the bat there’s a fair bit to like. The site hosts a range of writers and also aggregates content from outside News Ltd properties; that’s a reasonable step forward for a mainstream media owned site in Australia, and in that regard it should be noted as a strong positive (even if we can argue that it’s years late in coming.)

My first impressions yesterday, as they are today is that The Punch is Crikey in a blog format. Editor David Penberthy even recognises Crikey in this bizarre statement on Mumbrella:

And then there?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s Crikey, which operates on the presumption that nothing good has ever come out of mainstream journalism.

Penberthy quite clearly doesn’t read Crikey, or hasn’t for some time, because he’d know that Crikey has become a mouth piece for old media with regular editorials attacking new media, and going to extremes such as suggesting that Google is stealing from newspapers; if anything, Penberthy is less pro-newspaper than Crikey is. But I digress.

My concern, or perhaps what I don’t like about The Punch, is the same thing I don’t like in Crikey in 2009: it appears to be primarily an outlet for views from the rich, famous and/ or well connected. Credit for The Huffington Post is often given due to it providing a similar outlet in the United States, but that analysis ignores the bread and butter in terms of general news reporting and discovery.

But can it work? Penberthy claims that The Punch “fills what we believe is a gap in the market for readers” which is a little bold when there are multiple outlets already for this type of content (be it mostly offline). The better analysis is that The Punch provides much needed competition to Crikey, and better still it’s free competition.

I remember one time I was speaking to Stephen Mayne (Crikey’s founder, no longer with them) and he said to me that he never understood why no one ever set up a site/ service in competition to them. I always considered the problem two fold: establishing the connections Crikey had was difficult to replicate, and the cost of sustaining a competitor at the same scale was prohibitive to most. News Ltd doesn’t face those challenges and hence is placed well in offering much needed competition.

It’s early days for The Punch, and given its near blog/ 2.0 format they’ll probably learn and evolve along the way. I wouldn’t consider it brilliant, but it’s not at all bad either, and it may find a solid future. It will be interesting to see where it is in 6 and 12 months time.

Postscript: This quote from Penberthy comes with epic lulzs:

Our site is clean and simple and easy to use. We have avoided the clutter of sites overseas which have slavishly replicated every section of a general news structure and can leave readers overwhelmed.

So it’s not like the front page of then? 🙂