First, a constructive proposal: News organizations need to band together — not to cut off their content, along with theirs noses, or to collude in antitrust cabals — but simply to set a new metadata standard identifying original reporting. If every news story carried a switch identifying original reporting, then aggregators like GoogleNews and Daylife (where I’m a partner) could give precedence to and link to that journalism at its source, helping support that reporting in the link economy.
The problem today is that aggregators favor freshness, but the latest story in a topical cluster is often the 87th rewrite of the news and it’s usually from the Associated Press, which cuts off links and credit to the original journalism (for all its bluster, the AP is actually the biggest problem newspapers have online, but more on that in a minute).
Now I know that a flag that says “give my story better play” is ripe for gaming. But the news aggregators work with limited if large pools of sources (in the low thousands). In such a small universe, bad behavior can be monitored and punished (by the aggregators, readers, and competitors). So with this method, the Washington Post’s Walter Reed stories would get precedence over others’ rewrites.
In the structure of the link economy, it’s then up to the Post to monetize that audience. This could be aided, though, by a marketplace that supports reverse syndication, which would send traffic to original journalism and even share revenue with those who send links to it.
If the AP really wanted to help support original journalism, it would build that marketplace – and it would stop rewriting, homogenizing, and anonymizing all its members’ news. Or when it does, it should provide credit and links to the sources, a moral necessity in the link economy; I urged the AP to adopt such a link ethic last year.
Instead, the AP is, incredibly, looking to start a news portal. A damned portal. Sherman, who set the Wayback Machine to 1998? Fix it, willya? Are they kidding? No. Doug MacMillan reports in BusinessWeek today AP head Tom Curley “plans to create ‘landing pages’ that would host articles from any news sources that allow their headlines on the site.” So the AP – hardly a household brand – would try to change readers’ habits and market to get them to come to a newspaper portal? Ghosts of the New Century Network, the newspaper Keystone Konsortium that died in 1998. Damnit, Sherman, hurry.
Rather than competing with the entire internet, which is what the AP is trying to do (or, as Kara Swisher says scolding AP chairman and foundering newspaper mogul Dean Singleton, “stop the internet from being the internet”), wouldn’t it make sense to improve the standing of newspapers’ original work throughout the fabric of the internet? That’s why I’m suggesting the original-reporting metadata standard above. (And by the way, even if such a standard isn’t adopted, the chief scientist at Daylife and I have discussed ways to suss out original work and give is priority; that’s second choice.) (Alslo by the way, such a standards could be expanded to create feeds of updates and corrections.)
But the AP is not going to do that because, as newspapers are slowly learning, the AP is their enemy. Not the internet. Not Google. It’s the AP that has to insist on going against the flow – the damned tsunami – of the internet because it lives by homogenizing and it can’t monetize the link economy. So the AP tries to make Google and aggregators – and the the internet, for that matter – the enemy. It’s a matter of survival.
Though Paul Farhi and I disagreed about what to do about it, we agree that the AP is a problem. And though Saul Hansell gets me wrong in his rather twisty path to his conclusion yesterday (I’m not saying newspaeprs as they exist would thrive if they’d wised up a decade ago; I’m saying they’d be unrecognizab ly reinvented), we agree in the end: Shut down the AP. Says Mr. Hansell:
The only conclusion here is that the very existence of The A.P. is the greatest contributor to the scourge of free news. And so, by the logic of the newspaper industry, Mr. Singleton has only one choice: To fight the problem at its source and shut down the A.P. for good. That makes at least as much sense as the current campaign against windmills, aggregators and search engines.
Papers are canceling their contracts because it is too expensive. Journalists doing original reporting everywhere should resent the AP for turning all the knowledge they create into commodity news — and selling it with no benefit to them in the form of payment, credit, or links. The AP is built for the content economy and is incapable of shifting to support its members or compete in the link economy.
I would cut up the AP into its constituent parts: Spin off the journalists who do original reporting and make this core into another news source to compete on the open market, in internet economics, building a brand and selling ads and going up against Reuters, The Times, and other national and international sources. Then kill the Borden’s Dairy that homogenizes news, milking it (sorry) of its value. The AP is an antimarket player and once it’s taken out, a new market can grow to support journalism.
Newspapers and others who create original journalism can then create a marketplace where they share links and value. They or a new company – or Google – can help them by selling ads on all that content. This will encourage them – economically and ethically – to link to each other (as quality papers are doing) and then to distribute their content into the web (as the Guardian, NY Times, BBC, and NPR are doing with their APIs). Others that run news – Yahoo, et al – will then have a marketplace to get news from the best sources (not the poor imitator, the AP) and in a reverse syndication model, they both benefit.
The problem is that the AP simply does not fit in the internet economy. So it is trying perversely to mold the future to its model and portray itself as Don Quixote tilting against the content mills when it is the worst mill itself. Sorry, AP, but you’re the problem.
: LATER: A suggestion for using the REL tag.
: LATER STILL: Arianna makes reference to the link economy on Charlie Rose.