Audit Notes: Noonan and Morris on the IRS, free Internet, Guardian gains

The Woodward and Bernstein of the bogus Tea Party tax scandal

At this point, the right’s Woodward and Bernstein are Peggy Noonan and Dick Morris, and that says about all you need to know about the state of conservative journalism.

Morris, as printed by The Hill, which pays him to be a columnist for some reason:

William Wilkins: The G. Gordon Liddy of the IRS scandal?

You can write anything when you put a question mark after it. Dick Morris: The G. Gordon Liddy of toe-sucking?

Anyway, Noonan, who was chief amongst the hacks leaping to call this the next Watergate when it broke two months ago, writes this about hearings last week that produced little to no news:

A Bombshell in the IRS Scandal

The “bombshell” is that one IRS Cincinnati employee testified that they ran the cases up to the chief counsel’s office. Problem is, as Media Matters points out, we knew this two months ago. Peggy Noonan knew this two months ago and wrote about it at the time.

Here’s her lede this time:

The IRS scandal was connected this week not just to the Washington office—that had been established—but to the office of the chief counsel.

The office of the chief counsel has 1,600 employees. But you won’t learn that from Noonan, who would have you believe that William Wilkins himself answers the phones.

— BuzzFeed, of all places, runs a post on how the end of the free Internet is nigh.

Regular Internet users soon came to expect that almost every type of media they once paid for — music, movies, news — would be available for free, legally or otherwise.

That era — let’s call it the Internet’s free trial period — is coming to an end. In the 12 years since courts shut down Napster, the Internet has taken its hatchet to every other branch of the media industry, deftly pruning ad dollars, jobs, and shaving away bottom lines. Now the reaction, opposite but never quite equal, and always late, is starting to take effect. The untamed and lawless expanses of web content are quickly being replaced by paywalls and monthly fees. And, surprisingly, we don’t really seem to mind all that much. Most of us don’t even seem to notice…

As far as trends move, paid news’ is creaking along glacially. The percentage of enthusiastic paywall subscribers is still below 20%, but it’s growing — an encouraging sign for a business model that was widely predicted to fail at the outset. “Today’s paywalls are by no means perfect, [and] have a lot of big holes in them,” Magid Advisors’ president Mike Vorhaus told BuzzFeed. “But we’re all going to pay for more and pay for stuff we’re not used to paying for. And as a result, publishers of all kinds will continue do a better job figuring out what we value and packaging our content better and more efficiently.”

It’s a bit much, but they’ve got the right idea.

The Guardian had a really good year last year, taking in more new digital revenue than it lost from print.

Alas, it still lost $47 million.

Its digital revenue increased to $85 million last year, a 29 percent gain (more than a quarter of that digital revenue is subscriptions, mostly from its dating site). That’s a big deal. Growing a relatively mature revenue stream by nearly a third in one year is no joke. If the paper could somehow continue that kind of growth for another three years (and maintain flat costs), it would turn a small profit by 2016, if print continues to decline at 7 percent a year.

That surely won’t happen. But The Guardian is fortunate to have investments that kick off tens of millions of dollars a year plus a $400 million trust fund. That gives it a safety net that few other newspapers have.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,