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The Associated Press Is Angry At The Web

Since Monday, some of my fellow journalists have been all a-twitter about a speech that Associated Press chairman Dean Singleton gave at the AP's annual meeting.

In the speech, Singleton spent a fair amount of time going over routine items of business, such as a cheaper rate plan for newspapers that don't need all the coverage provided by the AP, a non-profit cooperative owned by other news organizations. But he also promised "legal and legislative" action against Web sites that he accused of "misappropriation" of the AP's content -- without defining that term or identifying those sites. The only thing he was clear about, to judge from the text of his remarks, was that he's mad:

We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories. We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it any more.

You might think that Singleton is mad about sites that copy and paste entire AP stories. But the AP's earlier actions against bloggers, more recent statements by Singleton (see, for instance, paidContent.org's interview of him from this week) and subsequent reports (such as this Wall Street Journal item) indicate he's also angry about sites that merely post a summary or a brief excerpt of AP stories.

As you might imagine, that hasn't gone over too well on the Web. Reactions have ranged from confusion to outright scorn. The finest response to Singleton's speech is a brilliant, profane post by Search Engine Land editor-in-chief (and former Los Angeles Times and Orange County Register reporter) Danny Sullivan, in which he excoriates newspaper publishers for taking too long to recognize the Internet's potential, ignoring the special treatment and the extra traffic they already get from search sites like Google, whining about the unfairness of those freeloading search sites instead of blocking them from their content with a simple technical fix, and then re-using the reporting of Web sources without giving credit in their own stories. Seriously, just read the whole thing.

The tech-business-news site VentureBeat also notes that Singleton is not exactly a credible defender of newspaper jobs:

Yes, the same Dean Singleton who, in his role as chief executive of the MediaNews Group, was probably best-known for decimating newsrooms at papers like the San Jose Mercury News (former employer of VentureBeat's Matt Marshall and Dean Takahashi) with layoffs. Back when I worked at a newspaper, most of the words we used to describe Mr. Singleton were pretty much unprintable.

I would summarize my own reaction as "I don't need the AP leadership's brand of help."

First, I write a blog in which I quote from and link to other stories all the time, with extensive help from third-party sites that point me to interesting sources. Would somebody like to explain how making it some sort of punishable offense to link and quote will help me do my job?

Second, I've already heard way too many blustering executives ranting about Those Internet People Who Steal Our Content. A decade or so ago, it was fashionable for music and movie executives to give their two-bit Winston Churchill impersonations while vowing strong action against the perils of the Web. Consider, for instance, the memorable manifesto of Seagram chief executive Edgar Bronfman, Jr., as preserved by the Internet Archive:

We will take our fight to every territory, in every court in every venue, wherever our fundamental rights are being assaulted and attacked.

So far, most of those Hollywood types has turned out to be wrong about how to respond to the Internet. Some have recognized that; Bronfman, for instance, had a considerably different view of things in 2007.

The news business has issues, but blaming the Internet won't fix them. Look, the Internet did not make Sam Zell pay for the Tribune Co. with $8.2 billion in loans. The Internet did not make the New York Times spend $1.1 billion to buy the Boston Globe, then put $600 million into a new headquarters building on some of the most expensive real estate in the United States. The Internet did not make the Washington Post Co. waste a few years of effort on a nightmarishly-bad dial-up online service called Digital Ink.

So, please, enough bleating about the unfairness of the online world. Let's have some constructive suggestions about what news organizations can do on their own without unleashing battalions of lawyers or undertaking some magical rewiring of the Internet. See, for example, the recommendations of journalist and consultant Steve Outing, or the musings of Tim Windsor, a former Baltimore Sun executive who's now Johns Hopkins University's director of digital strategy.

What about you? We've talked before here about the changing nature of Web ads; now, let's follow up by taking a look at how news sites could better present their work (with the caveat that all these issues are above my pay grade, so I have no special insight about what we might do). What sort of services or features would you like to see on this site? Or, put more simply: Think of one story you read here earlier this morning. What were you next looking for when you stopped reading here and clicked over to some other site?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  April 8, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  The Web , The business we have chosen  
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Comments

I can relate. There's rampant theft of original content on the web. I've considered throwing in the towel on multiple occasions. I don't mind being quoted, I don't mind sharing my pics. In fact, we need that for exposure. But I do mind when my pics are swiped without attribution and/or entire paragraphs or complete posts are taken. And we can't even solely blame my fellow bloggers - "mainstream" press are some of worst offenders.

Posted by: davezatz | April 8, 2009 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I marvel at the number of links you have managed to insert into your column. And the ever widening pool of links they provide for background on this important issue. The AP must now have you as a marked man.

Posted by: Geezer4 | April 8, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

You know, "the news" in the paper, has always been a loss leader, dependent on subsidy by advertising for other content and included because it has a social importance beyond any "user pay" model for "the news" in and of itself. News has never paid for itself. The internet is threatening "the news" not because it aggregates or otherwise appropriates news content, but because it has undermined the subsidizing newspaper content - classified ads, full page ads, etc. - that were the business model for the newspaper. I think the only answer for journalism is going to be a similar subsidy "loss leader" model - for example, that ISPs or internet portals like Google, MSN and Yahoo, provide "the news" as an adjunct of their own broader offerings.

Posted by: internet2k4 | April 8, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

A couple ideas & comments. First, it's not just newspapers. TV news is having the same problems, losing viewers (though they offset viewer loss with higher ad rates). Second, the newspapers you cite give us all the news they care about, but not necessarily the news the rest of us care about -- which is why on my side of town the situation is known as the dinosaur death watch. The problem is not just the business model, it's the news model itself. Conservatives are doing well, liberals are not. Drudge is doing well, the Times is not. As long as the Post, the Times, et al treat news like a hobby, they will continue to lose. Eventually, they will become pennysavers whose publishers are lost in old dreams about how things once were.

Posted by: bobherz | April 9, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

well how about newspapers people putting their stories where they belong, In the newspaper. I think people re-iterate things they read because it grasped their undivided attention enough that they wanted to share it with other people. Maybe they should copy/paste just the parts that really struck them then hand other people the links so they can read the entire story. I don't think people really care about who wrote what on the web, but the content is what grabs them enough to want to read it all. Now days most people who do write stories aren't credible anyways I don't think. You can only ASSUME it is from their own personal experiences. We don't really know on the web if the reporter has actually been to the place he/she is writing about. That's why they are called the drive by media. True reporters are sorley missed in todays world. I know I miss them a lot. We all knew the names of people like Walter Cronkite and Diane Sawyer. We believed what they presented to us too. Now days most people don't. Because we aren't hearing what we need to hear nor want to hear. (or in this case read) So all you drive by media just keep having your fun because sooner or later it will come to an end for you too.

Posted by: Eskiegirl302 | April 9, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Another example of newspapers loading up on debt comes from Washington state, where BofA is seeking $15 million unpaid debt from the The Columbian.

"The pending court action is expected to intensify negotiations between the publishing company and the bank, which funded construction of a new $35 million six-story newspaper office building south of Esther Short Park three years ago."

Why blow $35 million erecting high-rise bricks and mortar -- rather than, say, putting money into better reporting, writing, editing, technology, new online product development. etc. etc.?

Posted by: mwhudson | April 9, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I agree whole-heartedly Rob, and that's why my latest video roundtable at PBS MediaShift, "An After-Life for Newspapers" was all about what is working online and what will work in the future -- and *not* about what's wrong with the Internet and linking. Check it out:

http://is.gd/rGch

Posted by: markglaser | April 9, 2009 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Remember copyright is about who gets paid for the work, so he can do more work next week.
Paraphrasing the words of my article does not mean you own the research I did to gather the facts. The words are only part of the writing process.
Do your own research, gather different expert opinions, and you will produce a very different copyrightable article of your own.

If you want to debate my article paragraph by paragraph – pay for it.

Eirík Þorvaldsson

Posted by: EirikThorvaldsson | April 10, 2009 1:23 AM | Report abuse

How can news organizations better present their work?

To me the problem with the on-line post is that it looks & feels like the on-line edition of the print news, but what I really want is a local wikipedia. In the Post today there may be a story about work being done on one of the bridges. OK, fine. Now I want a map of where traffic construction is happening a schedule of where it's going to happen, a story on the people who do the work. I want the surround, and no,I don't want to do a google search of similar stories. I want someone to organize the information for me and present it attractively.

Yes - "attractively" is probably the most important word of that last sentence. Now when I read a post story it's burdened with ad's and stupid links that don't mean anything to me. Compare the Post to CNN or the BBC. But I want Web 2.0 with pictures and flash (God help me). Not one style sheet for the entire web site.

I want to be able to go to a section of the post on my neighborhood (not just my county) and see what's going on there at the schools & community centers. Once there, I want to see advertisements from local stores. Not a Google link.

I like being able to comment on your stories. But that's unusual in the post. I'd like a local forum or chat room.

It occurs to me that local TV programming probably has good stuff on it but it's wasted. Nobody knows when the stuff is on because the TV guide (print, on-line and on cable's guide) just says "Local Broadcasting". I'd like to be able to watch it on-line.

In short, if I want to find out what's going on in my home town I should be going here. Not craigslist.

And just to get this off my chest - I want a local kid to deliver my paper and not some guy in a van. I want to feel like I'm contributing a job to my community and not someone who drove 10 miles to his "area."

Not sure if this is what you were looking for. But it felt good to vent.

Posted by: tokrueger | April 10, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

It always amazes me the gap in opinion on the Internet between those who use it extensively and those who do not.

All this announcement proves is the AP knows nothing about the publishing on the Internet. They are shocked that their traditional business model is being flagrantly ignored on the Internet.

Rather adopt a new model they try to enforce the old one. Any victories they experience in this campaign will be Pyrrhic, because the won't change the way news is covered on the web.

The best case scenario is people ignore their demands and keep linking to them, with possibly more effort spent on properly attributing them. The worst case scenario is people simply stop link to AP stories. No story stays exclusive for long, and all someone has to do is wait for another news service to cover it.

Most news blog I've seen live by posting links to other blog/website's content. I've never once seen the article or link taken down because the subject demanded it.

Posted by: fletch02 | April 15, 2009 1:49 PM | Report abuse

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