When did Gatehouse become clueless?

Gatehouse has been a smart if small – and getting smaller (stock=$0.04-$0.05; down 99.05% in a year; market cap=$2.1 million) – local media company. It is, for example, going into competitors’ markets to compete with them online with hyperlocal blogs. So I just can’t wait to hear their explanation and justification for following the Associated Press down the rabbit hole to sue Boston.com for daring to link to its sites.

Here‘s Boston.com’s version of the story; here‘s Gatehouse’s. As near as I can tell, Gatehouse’s gets it way wrong accusing Boston.com of copying whole stories. “Boston.com has posted as many as 30 stories per day of original GateHouse content on its Newton site,” the Gatehouse story says. But here‘s Boston.com’s Newton hyperlocal site; all I see are headlines, ledes, and links directly to complete stories on Gatehouse’s Wickedlocal with clear branding. The links are all the stronger because they include headlines (I argue in my book that online, your product is your ad).

Gatehouse should be sucking Boston.com’s toes begging for more links, not siccing lawyers on them as the AP did when a blog dared to link to its stories from headlines.

The move is not just brain dead but dangerous, for it threatens the ecology of links that I believe will be the underpinning of news online. Links are how original journalism will be supported.

Boston.com and its parent, The New York Times Company, need to fight for the right to link. Gatehouse needs to get a clue.

  • http://blog.syracuse.com/newstracker Brian Cubbison

    I notice that Gatehouse’s The Batavian web site in New York links to headlines from the Buffalo and Rochester newspapers.

    I’ve been a proponent of linking out (and drawing in) in my newsroom in Syracuse for many years. We even created a blog network of independent Upstate New York bloggers that is mutually supportive.

    But I suppose that like many things, the ecology of links can be abused. At one extreme is hot-linking to images that reside on someone else’s server, in effect swiping their bandwidth until they avenge themselves by switching the image. In Gatehouse vs. Boston.com, the concern is probably that a big faceless corporation could create a MyTown hyperlocal site completely from the feeds of others, without doing any of the actual work of local reporting and community building. Boston.com does seem to contribute some of the coverage, however.

    There’s definitely a traffic-generating effect in being linked to from Boston.com. Enjoy the free promotion, in other words. But I’d like to see measurements on how many people check the Boston.com page and consider themselves caught up on Newton news and go no further. How many advertisers will figure, why advertise on the Gatehouse site when you catch everyone going through Boston.com?

    In the meantime, perhaps Gatehouse should create a Red Sox site populated by feeds from Boston.com, among others.

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  • http://twitter.com/bfinnegan Brent Finnegan

    It appears Gatehouse is missing the point of the entire Internet.

    But Brian raises a good point. I’ve been a local news blogger for years, and recently I’ve noticed companies like BNN and others trying to start something in my town by yoinking content from local bloggers.

    I like Brian’s BoSox suggestion: if you can’t beat ‘em, give ‘em a taste of their own medicine.

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com Tish Grier

    You’re right, Jeff–this is a brain-dead strategy on the part of Gatehouse. Boston.com appears to be using an aggregation model, and returning traffic to Gatehouse’s properties. It also makes it very clear, next to the headlines, that the stories are from Gatehouse properties. Boston.com is not taking any credit for these stories.

    As many of us have argued for years, an aggregation model that links back to main sites, drives traffic back to sites, thus increasing the google page rank of those sites, as much as exposing those stories to readers. It really isn’t about “our readers” vs. “your readers.” It’s about informing whomever it is of the best stories out there, and directing those eyeballs to those stories.

    If Gatehouse is going to take this strategy with Boston.com, it should look at other aggregation sites as well. At Placeblogger.com we’re also aggegating the Watertown TAB, and I believe we’re also aggregating headlines plus 200 characters (like Google) of other Gatehouse sites (we don’t carry ads.) Outside.in aggregates headlines for WickedLocal Watertown, and posts google ads against them as well. Gatehouse may also want to check to see if Topix.net, AmericanTowns.com, and several other sites small sites and blogs are aggregating their articles as well.

    I wonder if Gatehouse is concerned about all of our aggregation sites. And I wonder if we’re going to get takedown notices, too. Or is it that we’re not really “news” sites, and thus are o.k. to aggregate.

    If, like Brian mentions, Gatehouse is concerned about a “big faceless corporation” aggregating all their news, they really shouldn’t worry too much. There’s not a whole huge amount of money in hyperlocal aggregation at the moment. Gatehouse’s ire seems more, to me anyway, based on strategies that come from corporate blogging that promote linking only internally. That strategy comes from the notiopn that the more eyeballs you keep on your own site, the more people will be inclined to buy your product or click on your ads. And it does nothing for corporate blog page rank (which is usually fairly low, in the 1-3 range, rarely getting higher.) Not to mention that, according to a recent Forrester study, corporate blogs are not trusted by consumers. So, a company, even a newspaper, can keep traffic on its own site by linking internally and to its other properties, but that doesn’t do a heck of a lot for building consumer (or reader) trust. The lawsuit seems to be a lose-lose for both Gatehouse and news consumers.

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com Tish Grier

    A note to Brett–is BNN “yoinking” your entire articles, or just your headlines? have you checked your traffic figures to see if anyone is coming to your blog *from* BNN? BNN aggregates the headlines to my blog, the Constant Observer, and I always get those readers.

    That’s the point of aggregation–to give teasers and to generate traffic for others.

  • http://journalistopia.com Danny Sanchez

    Hey Jeff, just a heads up that I’ve posted a copy of the original 25-page lawsuit here: http://journalistopia.com/2008/12/23/gatehouse-lawsuit-new-york-times-dire-implications-for-internet/

  • http://bobbiejohnson.org Bobbie Johnson

    “Gatehouse is complaining entire stories are being taken without any human interaction or enhancement”.

    No. I think it’s worth putting that one to bed before your agenda helps spread an untruth. Read the files Danny put up: While there is the mention of “additional original material”, the complaint is focused on the accusation that BNN is “reproducing, displaying and distributing… unauthorized verbatim copies of newspaper headlines and first sentences thereof” and that in giving the name of the organisation they’re linking to, they are infringing Gatehouse’s trademarks and implying to the reader that some kind of approval or permission has been given.

    They’re not just pissed off with being aggregated, they’re actually pissed off with being CREDITED as well.

    I understand the argument that a good local aggregator takes away mindshare from the people it links to (which doesn’t seem to be one that they’re making). But why not sue Google News? Digg? Drudge?

  • invitedmedia

    “(stock=$0.04-$0.05…)” pretty much says what the f#ckin motivation is.

  • invitedmedia

    btw- mcclatchy is .75 as i write.

    who will they sue?

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  • http://blog.syracuse.com/newstracker Brian Cubbison

    GateHouse should have been doing this first, aggregating every item of interest to Newtonians, no matter where it comes from, with insight only a local can provide. But the ecology of links must have an ethics of links and a goal of being supportive, not exploitative. If someone were to create a site called BuzzFactory built mostly on feeds from this blog, that would be over the line, wouldn’t it?

    But perhaps this is just an exercise in the unbundling of news. Reporters compete with each other as vendors who are separate from editors, who compete with other editing companies to design the most effective feeds.

  • pel

    As I read the complaint, gatehouse is complaining that Boston.com is launching a news site that predominantly uses gatehouse content and very little of their own in a format that is intended to confuse the reader. The link-through allows the reader to get to the gatehouse piece, but by-passes advertisements that are the revenue base for paying for on-the-ground reporters.

    I don’t think gatehouse is protesting blogsites or true aggregators that balance their sites, but is justifiably protesting a competing news outlet (The Boston Globe) introducing a site that largely relies on gatehouse content. A predatory wolf in aggregator’s sheepskin who is determined to eat gatehouse advertisers (or the golden goose, if you wish). No gatehouse, no hyperlocal content.

    Would Boston.com be willing to let gatehouse come into its Boston market using the same strategy of making 60-70% of its news content from Globe or boston.com reporters? Hmmm… I doubt it.

    And yes, it is about the $$ — on both sides.

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  • http://www.thegardencity.net Chuck Tanowitz

    Since no one who has commented on this site lives in Newton nor operates a site in the city, I’d thought I’d throw in my $.02, since I fit both criteria.

    It happens that the TAB does link to Globe stories on its own city-focused blog. However, it does so by adding its own commentary and giving people a reason to read further. It’s a subtle distinction, but rather important.

    When you actually LOOK at the Newton site that Boston.com created you find it acts more like a digest for the city. Someone can scan that page, get the news they need and never link through. It doesn’t encourage the linking through, but instead just pays the idea lip-service. It provides links and a touch of news. Read it and you’ve got your “one stop.”

    The TAB has as series of people blogging, editors, reporters, photographers, etc. Many live in the city and have a reason to participate. The Globe hired one college student right out of school to sit in a Starbucks and blog from there. When I joked with the editors at a launch meeting that he should sit in a different, locally-owned coffee bar, they didn’t really get the joke and reiterated that he’d be in a Starbucks.

    When the Globe does write local stories it doesn’t end up on the Newton site, but on a different blog that is then linked to off the Newton site. This is a very confusing model.

    The TAB, meanwhile DOES get it. The editors there are experimenting with Twitter and Facebook to engage with the community. In a way the Globe’s strategy is old while the TAB/Gatehouse is looking for fresh ideas.

  • http://www.thisweeklive.com Jeff Achen

    What does this mean for online journalism services such as http://www.Publish2.com which facilitates link journalism on many news sites (including my own)?

  • http://linglestowngazette.com Bill Bostic

    In my opinion, the Globe’s hyper-local sites would be a non-issue for GateHouse if Gatehouse sites offered content that made them a must-go-to source of community news and community calendar info.

    Gatehouse should be able to drill down significantly deeper into communities than the Globe, and offer content – including video and audio – that would significantly differentiate Gatehouse sites from those offered by the Globe.

    As a hyper-local blogger, I’d welcome Globe links.

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