The reckoning.

It looks as though the Associated Press is firing the first shots in what we might look back on as the Great Content Wars of the Aughts. They’re after the aggregators and search engines, mainly, not individual bloggers, although the story isn’t that clear. They want permissions and revenue-sharing, and I for one will be watching this one closely. I think this fight is long overdue, and if we’re going to have it, then let’s bloody well have it.

The initial response is about what you’d expect — most are taking the wait-and-see approach, with a few trumpeting the sort of swaggering arrogance the web does so well:

The last time they TRIED, it was a public relations nightmare for them and we in The Blogospheres had thought they had arrived at their senses — guess not. Again — JUST BRING IT ON.

“A public relations nightmare” — that’s a good one. Because if there’s one thing the AP must have, it’s good PR. They wouldn’t want a bunch of ignorant bloggers pissed at them or anything. Because, you know, the people who are stealing their content (always providing a link back in tribute) must be kept happy.

We need to have this fight, if only to establish what eyeballs are worth (my guess: nothing), what links are worth (a fraction of nothing), and finally, what content is worth. It may well be a losing battle, but it’s time to go beyond the usual response (information wants to be free nyah nyah) and actually have a reasoned discussion about free lunches.

The aggregator’s defense is that they reproduce no more than a “fair use” portion and always provide a link back (which is sort of like being paid in invisible money). The problem is, frequently that’s all the eyeballs are interested in. A friend of mine told me a few years ago, “I went from reading the paper to reading the paper online to reading a few blogs that tell me what the interesting stories are, and even then, I just read the summaries.” Broadcast news has known this for a generation at least. Why provide depth, perspective and context when you can get the gist in two or three paragraphs? Particularly when you’re gathering your audience via their political biases, all you need is the fair-use segment. You use it to touch off a getta-loada-this blog post, in and out in a couple hundred words, and on to the next one. Most people don’t want anything more, so why bother?

The AP, however, doesn’t exist to provide blogfodder. It exists to serve its dwindling list of clients, and this is where I start rolling my eyes at the stunning ignorance of most of the online commentariat. The AP is a co-op; it has its own staff reporters, but most of its content is provided by member papers, which then take the AP’s versions of other members’ stories in return. Everybody who’s done time on a news desk knows the drill — after deadline, the slot editor sends three or four of the day’s best stories to the AP, where editors trim and rewrite, then send them back out to member clients. If someone stands up at a Fort Wayne City Council meeting and shoots its august members a moon, they’ll be reading about it in Evansville a day later, not because the AP had someone there, but because they took the local papers’ stories and passed them along to the state wire.

Of course, nowadays, if such a thing happened, they’d be reading about it in Evansville via the web, via links to the Fort Wayne papers. At least, for a knee-slapper story like that. For less amusing material, maybe not. My point is, however: The AP is producing something of value, and we need to figure out what its value is. So if a big ugly lawsuit is the way to find out, time for the big ugly lawsuit.

There’s also a reckoning coming in advertising value. It’s often noted that many newspapers are being read by more people than ever before, and yet still can’t support themselves through advertising. Huh. I wonder why. Let’s take a few sports-section ad stalwarts — tires and tits. (If you’re in the market for new radials or wondering which porn star is stripping at which club, Sports is your go-to section.) Imagine being the ad salesman trying to convince the tire-store owner of the great deal he’s getting, because of all the new eyeballs. Pistons fans in Tokyo can read the Detroit News online, and keep up with the best local coverage of their favorite team! But the tires are being sold in Detroit, not Tokyo. Or San Diego, or Cincinnati. The internet has been a great boon for readers. But the strip club is unlikely to draw patrons from the Sun Belt. Some eyeballs are more valuable than others.

So, a bit of bloggage, never exceeding fair use:

As creepy as this story is, the video is worse.

The game last night was the expected blowout, and Mitch Albom sprained his syntaxes capturing it in his purplest prose. No link — go find that shit y’self.

Another incredible Sweet Juniper post, capturing blight on a Detroit “ghost street.” This, my friends, is multimedia reporting. Don’t expect the papers to figure it out.

Off to the gym to battle gravity.

Posted at 9:42 am in Current events, Detroit life, Media |

28 responses to “The reckoning.”

  1. jeff borden said on April 7, 2009 at 10:02 am

    One of the reasons AP likely is looking at getting some kind of remuneration from the Web is to replace lost revenues from newspapers deciding not to carry their stories. A lot of papers have decided to cut costs by sharing with other publications in their state or region and canceling their AP contracts.

    Whether they succeed in wrenching a few pennies out of cyberspace is another story, but this is a pretty good motive for their action.

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  2. whitebeard said on April 7, 2009 at 11:11 am

    In the sixties, as chairman of the Ontario news study committee, I was encouraging Canadian Press member newspapers to share more complete stories using their own teletype machines than would appear on the news wire. To find out what would be involved I had meetings with the major telecommunications carrier in Canada, worked on the overnight rewrite desk at Canadian Press in Toronto a couple of nights and met with the Canadian Press wire desk people in New York City to research ways to get U.S. news to Canadian newspapers faster. I was not well liked by some Canadian Press management when I suggested at a general Ontario wire editors meeting that starting the New York operation an hour earlier would help immensely. When told that the logistics involved would include asking the New York staff to get up in the middle of the night to take the commuter train, I calmly answered that the New York staff already gets there an hour early to avoid the rush hour and has been asking to start earlier for years. On hearing that, the president of Canadian Press told his operations manager to make it happen, which it did, with a lot of muttering by the operations guy afterward that no hayseed farmer was going to tell him how to run Canadian Press. When I suggested to my friends at Canadian Press headquarters that I should show up for my next visit wearing a straw farmer’s hat and chewing on a stalk of wheat or hay, they advised me not to do that because the operations guy would really blow a gasket.

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  3. nancy said on April 7, 2009 at 11:32 am

    True, Borden. As papers give up on even offering wire coverage of national/international news, it makes more sense for them to make their own state and regional sharing alliances.

    I’m not sure I can get all the way behind the AP on this, but I appreciate them making the effort. Someone needs to be the bad guy, and it might as well be dour, humorless, tight-fisted old AP. As my friends who have toiled there like to say, “You can’t spell ‘cheap’ without ‘AP.'”

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  4. jeff borden said on April 7, 2009 at 11:54 am

    One of the things I’m teaching my students in “Communications Practices” is that business models, legislation, oversight, etc. invariably trails innovation, regardless of what era you’re studying. The AP is one of many entities that didn’t really grasp the stakes of what the Internet meant for information until it was awfully late in the game.

    I’m pretty bearish about the news gathering business in the near term. We’re going to lose a lot of newspapers and magazines in the next few years. We’re going to see continuing cutbacks in broadcast news, too. I’m not particularly hopeful that “citizen journalists” or bloggers or whatever can take up the slack since most insist on looking at events through a particular political prism, but at some point, a new model will emerge, something that can generate a profit and still deliver facts and information.

    I hope.

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  5. beb said on April 7, 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I don’t have much sympathy for the AP because their coverage of the 2008 presidential election was about as “Fair and Balanced” as Fox News.

    The AP’s complaint sounds a lot like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) which has spent years harassing students for sharing digital copies of music. The RIAA has floated enormous values for lost revenue without ever explaining where these valuations come from. They have harassed people who have never gone on line to download music. And they ignore the bands who have been quite successful selling their albums by releasing free tunes. The RIAA have acted like ‘jack-booted thugs.’ No only haven’t they won fans to their cause, there is a growing number of judges who aren’t buying their claims. I think the AP in ppursuing its claims of copyright infringement are going to find they have a hard row to hoe.

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  6. Peter said on April 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I hope the AP wins. A lot of people have gotten rich my mooching – why should Bernie Madoff be the only one who gets caught.

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  7. Scout said on April 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    When the AP gets rid of partisan hacks like Ron Fournier, I might be able to be more sympathetic to their “cause.”

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  8. coozledad said on April 7, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Wildly OT, but Atrios linked to this just now. It reminds me of an MST 3000 episode where Dr.Forrester had invented a treadmill that moved around when you walked on it. Anyone driving this down the street, save the elderly or disabled, would richly deserve the cries of “Yo! douche! Take that thing back to the Safeway!”

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  9. beb said on April 7, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    coozledad, In the touristy areas of Chicago you can sign on for Segway tours of the city. They travel on the sidewalks, which in this area are very wide. it seems like a nice – if lazy – way to see the city. The Segway for 2 seems like a nice expansion of this idea. Considering that it can go 35 mph and the speed limit for most city streets is 35 mph or less, I don’t think there would be a problem with segways moving in traffic. Or think of the convenience of renting one of these when visiting the zoo? (More so when visiting with an infirm or nadicapped person). Or it could be used for medical transport at a festival for people who have fainted or are going to faint. It could get in and pick up the person and take them back to the First Aid Station faster than sending a van.

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  10. coozledad said on April 7, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Sorry, Beb. I just couldn’t resist the Safeway joke.

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  11. MichaelG said on April 7, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I saw that GM Segway thing on Jalopnik. I think it has potential. The idea of people riding current generation Segways at 12 mph on the sidewalks gives me the lamadamas. They’re worse than bicycles.

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  12. Dexter said on April 7, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    That thing is a baby buggy! I saw the clip with two skinny short people riding in one, with a joystick control. I thought it was a cutie, for sure.
    The Segway was heralded and ridiculed at its inception but look at them now…cops at Atlanta-Hartsfield-Jackson use them , that’s where I first saw them, but now cops use them at Detroit Metro, both Chicago airports, Washington, DC BWI, and a lot of others as well. This baby buggy Segway has a future, too.

    I like the way NBC (and I presume CBS & ABC, also) will show a two and a half minute segment or interview, and if it’s a good topic, they guide us to Nightly News on the web for the complete interview or story. Of course Nightly News is online anyway, but I like the 30 minute network news on my TV at 6:30.

    I never gave the Sparties a chance in hell to win last night…North Carolina blew every opponent away by huge margins. The entire tournament was riddled with blowouts…only 8 games were close. It was the worst, dullest NCAA tourney in history. Tonight? The women’s game will be a similar blowout.

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  13. Sue said on April 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    Well, segways are an appropriate topic for me today. It’s voting day and the City Hall parking lot looks like a tidal wave swept through a Buick dealership. If we could get some of our seniors who really, really shouldn’t be driving into these things it might be worth losing our sidewalks. And beb, I’m afraid to ask if nadicapped is a real word because it sounds painful.

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  14. MitchAlbomFan said on April 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Go Tigers.

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  15. LA Mary said on April 7, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Off topic: My employer just sent out an email saying there will no longer be an employer funded pension fund. It’s all 403b and 401a now, and there will be changes to those as well. Up until now we had a pension that was paid completely by the company.

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  16. jcburns said on April 7, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    You can’t spell “uppity” without UPI. No, wait. You can’t spell “Agence France-Presse” without “genres.” You can’t spell “Reuters” without “rut.”…you can’t spell FOX News without “ox.”

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  17. Dexter said on April 7, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Ha! An antagonist! Anybody using “Mitch…fan” for a screen name must be a troublemaker in these here parts!
    So, if you’re a true Tiger fan, what is today, April 7? It’s a significant silver anniversary of an event that happened in Chicago.
    I guess I better spell it out: Jack Morris threw the first Tiger no-hitter since 1958 that day. I remember it so well because I was in the left field grandstand with my brother and some friends.

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  18. Dexter said on April 7, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    LA Mary, that’s bad news; were you expecting that?

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  19. Jim said on April 7, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    I do think this is similar to the fight over digital/downloaded music. For years, the music industry fought the tide and insisted that customers go to a brick-and-mortar store and purchased a hard-copy CD. The public thought otherwise and found ways to get music via the Internet. Finally, the music industry figured it out and discovered easy ways for people to legitimately purchase music online. I buy a lot more music through than I would have if I had to buy it at Musicland (remember when every mall had one of those?), Sam Goody’s or Wal-Mart.

    AP, and its members, must fight this fight. As has been said in a different context, “Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free?”

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  20. LA Mary said on April 7, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    I was not expecting it, no. Now I have to tell everyone I’ve hired recently that that things have changed. That will be fun.

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  21. Jolene said on April 7, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    The pictures from Sweet Juniper are about as sad as anything I’ve ever seen. I wonder how many Americans even know that there is a part of our country that looks like that.

    Here’s a follow-up to yesterday’s discussion of gun control, the potentially incendiary role of right-wing media and such. And more. Also depressing. Just so you’re warned.

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  22. beb said on April 7, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    This is depressing. Pres. Obama is defending warrentless wiretaps in language even more extreme than Bush. I had hoped we had stepped back from Imperial Amerika, but I guess not. Story bby Glenn Greenwald:

    I had hoped that Obama would be a liberal, I am very disappointed.

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  23. brian stouder said on April 7, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    Jolene – that stuff is depressing, indeed. Most of the time, one would (rightly) scoff at nuts and eccentrics (and racists and fascists) of this sort, and go on.

    But the Andy Jackson book has been interesting to me since his election was such a radical break from what came before him…and South Carolina’s legislature began openly flirting with ‘nullification’ and it’s ultimate end, secession.

    The thought has occurred to me that the one thing at the state level in 2009 that could be said to have some glimmer of those badly misguided state legislators and their governor and national political allies (such as John Calhoun) in the 1830’s, is the head-strong insistence by some that they won’t accept Federal stimulous money.

    It would strike me as remarkable and more than slightly troubling if this comes to pass; such a state-level break from the national initiative might possibly be viewed as neo-nullification.

    The knuckle-draggers and heavily armed chuckle-heads featured in Jolene’s links look to be ready to “have a hell of a fight” against anything to do with President Obama; fools like them make just about anything possible

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  24. Gasman said on April 8, 2009 at 12:49 am

    There is no debating people that hyperventilate over such ridiculous b.s., they are mental pygmies who inflate their own self importance by imagining themselves to be among the few enlightened true believers. I would ignore them entirely if they were not both well armed and unhinged. I worry because these troglodytes are easily worked into a frothy panic by tirades from Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, et al., and they could be easily motivated – intentionally or unintentionally – into acts of violence.

    I hope I’m wrong, but I predict that there will be more acts of violence in which targeted liberals groups will be the recipients of senseless violence, as in the church in Tennessee. These assholes think they alone are the true patriots and that they have a pipeline to God. They are dangerous. Especially when they consume a steady diet of überhate right wing radio and TV.

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  25. Dexter said on April 8, 2009 at 2:56 am

    I did this once, 39 years ago…bought a pan and actually found…not a goddamn thing….

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  26. beb said on April 8, 2009 at 7:21 am

    Here’s a baker who’s going to be in trouble with the AP

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  27. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 8, 2009 at 7:52 am

    JeffB, wouldn’t it make sense to just walk away from the whole conversation about “citizen journalism” and whether it is a) to blame for the demise of news orgs or b) the coming Messiah for reporting and dissemination, and just say — what’s happening to papers and magazines is one thing, and what citizen journalism is doing is entirely another. We can ask questions about the ethics and values and methods of citizen journalism better (and more accurately) without attributing any connection whatsoever to “what’s happening to newspapers.”

    That turned into a statement that really is meant as a question, but it’s what i’m thinking.

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  28. Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 8, 2009 at 9:01 am

    Oh, and after four days mostly off the internet (except for twitter updates thru my cell phone), i find this jaw-dropper — Howard Ahmanson has become a Democrat, specifically because of the party’s inability to articulate a platform beyond “don’t raise taxes.”

    Waiting for an update on the Mellon/Scaife party affiliation status.

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