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?
April 8, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories: The Web , The business we have chosen
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