News’ Forbidden City

I found this Associated Press story this morning because of a tweet and then I retweeted adding value along the way, a one-word reason to read it: “Fools.” Many retweets ensued leading to many more readers.

Welcome to the future of content distribution, the new newsstand, if you ask me. Welcome to a den of thieves, if you ask the subjects of the story, Associated Press CEO Tom Curley and News Corp. oligarch Rupert Murdoch.

They stood near Tiananmen Square – as Alan Mairson retweeted, “Nice touch: They made announcement in Great Hall of the People, shrine to Central Control” – arguing once again that people who aggregate, curate, link to, talk about their stories are stealing their value.

“Crowd-sourcing Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook have become preferred customer destinations for breaking news, displacing Web sites of traditional news publishers,” Curley said. “We content creators must quickly and decisively act to take back control of our content.”

He said content aggregators, such as search engines and bloggers, were also directing audiences and revenue away from content creators. . . .

Murdoch also told the opening session of the World Media Summit in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that content providers would be demanding to be paid.

“The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph,” the News Corp. chief executive said.

I rolled my eyes and hardly for the first time at their dangerous ignorance of the new realities of the next economy – at this suicidal attempt to protect outmoded models and fight the future – and tweeted my comment and thought that was it. But then I got a call from the AP reporter in Beijing who wrote this story, Alexa Olesen, and pulled off the road on my way to work to talk with her. I said exactly what you’d expect me to say, arguing against their arguments.

I presented an alternative future that is being built today, the future we see in the New Business Models for News Project with new efficiencies, specialization, targeting, value that comes with the collaboration that the internet and its links enable, with an ecosystem of many smaller but once-again profitable entities providing news we have reason to hope will be better. I got angry at the irresponsible stewardship over journalism that has been exercised by the Politburo of the Press meeting in Beijing, the people who did but no longer control the press and squandered the last 15 years. I said I was angry because they are the ones killing newspapers, not the internet.

Olesen asked whether I agreed with other talk in Beijing that it’s important for news to be on many platforms. Yes, I said, but that drive is about a decade late. Then I said I was being unfair; there is good work going on and I pointed to three or four things The New York Times is doing by example. But I then said the media world is moving to a next step, after sites and pages to streams.

And then I used this story as an example. I discovered the story through a tweet. I spread the story through a tweet. Others spread the story through their tweets. I’m spreading it again here. We are not kleptomaniacs. We are the new (free) distribution. We are providing value to news. I explained that Google News causes a billion clicks a month and Twitter causes more (Bit.ly alone causes a billion). But the comrades in Beijing can’t see that because they are ignorant of the imperatives of the link economy.

Among the many ironies in this tale is that Curley presages his own defeat. If he and Murdoch and the Central Committee put up walls and guards or unbelievably delays the news (as the AP is considering), we will go to the sites he cites – Wikipedia et al – and create better news with or without them. The way they are talking in Beijing, I fear it will be without them sooner than later.

: Later: Olesen also said that she wasn’t hearing what I was saying in Beijing. And they call us in blogs an echo chamber, I replied.

Except one might have heard these things some years ago … from Messrs. Curley and Murdoch themselves. Kevin Anderson does a wonderful job making them eat their earlier words, a dish of Peking crow.

: The Brisbane Times Sydney Morning Herald says the summit in Beijing really is run by a media politburo.

The summit has a secretariat based at Xinhua’s Beijing headquarters and is chaired by Xinhua’s president, Li Congjun, previously vice-minister for propaganda. Co-chairmen include Mr Murdoch, Mr Curley and leaders from the BBC, the Japanese news service Kyodo, Russia’s official news agency, ITAR-TASS, and Google.

Big issues are decided through ”collective consultation” with the world media organisations that comprise the secretariat.

”This is beginning to look familiar, don’t you think?” wrote David Bandurski, from the University of Hong Kong’s China media project. ”A self-appointed group of elites making decisions through consultation among themselves … The World Media Summit has a politburo.”

The irony is just too obvious. At the summit, Chinese leaders tell media leaders to create just ”’true, correct, comprehensive and objective’ news coverage.” As we say online: Heh.

  • michael

    oh the irony…
    more like iron fisted irony…

  • Robyn

    Writing the word “fools” is “adding value”? Truly?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      It got people to click and distribute and it succinctly let them know what they were going to get, yes, I think so.

      • Rob Levine

        You’re wrong.

        Jeff, that’s twice as much value as you added! Fool.

      • Andy Freeman

        What is Jarvis wrong about? Is Levine claiming that adding “Fools” did not affect whether people clicked and distributed? Or is he claiming that affecting whether people clicked and distributed is not adding value? Or is he arguing that while producing those effects is usually considered adding value, doing so with “fools” doesn’t count.

        Or is it something else?

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  • http://hodgen.com Phil Hodgen

    Meh. It’s simple. If I need a link and I find an AP story about it, I go back to Google and find a link to the same topic from another source. Same for WSJ.

    If someone wishes to declare himself irrelevant, we should at least be gracious enough to honor that wish. :-)

    @philiphodgen

  • http://www.societymatters.org Alan Mairson

    Thanks for the RT, Jeff. And for the mention here. …. While in Beijing, Mr. Murdoch may get a refresher course in Command & Control (Idea #1: Buy lots of tanks). But what worries me is how China, with its massive market, is already distorting journalism here at home.

    I’ve been following National Geographic’s new publishing partnership with the PRC, and it’s not a pretty picture. In fact, best I can tell, Beijing already is shaping what we’re reading in Boston, Boise, Birmingham….

    http://societymatters.org/2009/10/01/the-mystery-of-the-missing-story/
    http://societymatters.org/2009/07/23/adventures-in-global-media/
    http://societymatters.org/2009/09/06/the-perils-of-international-publishing/

    • cm

      I don’t think that its only foreign powers that limit USA journalists. Internal powers do too. It is only corporate globalisation that extends these influences across continents.

      Don’t play ball with your advertisers and they stop advertising.

      Don’t play ball with the Whie house/Pentagon/… and they don’t return your calls or delay responses so that you miss your deadlines.

      Don’t play ball with military commanders in Iraq and they embed your reporters with the guys cleaning trucks in the transport park instead of frontline forces in the trenches.

      But worst, it appears that corporatized media is feeding on itself. Many organisations that have taken decades to build credibility are now cashing up.

      I share a disgust with National Geographic. I subscribed for over 20 years but have now stopped because they’ve stopped being a useful source. Witness a recent issue with alarmism about food running out, with a full page ad for Monsanto. The result reads like an infomercial. [The truth on food is that we've never had more food. WHO tells us there are more obese kids in the world than starving kids. We certainly don't need more food.]

      Perhaps cashing up and selling out is the right approach. Print media is against the ropes and going out with your head held high might be the honourable thing to do, but cashing up at least gives you money.

      • http://www.societymatters.org Alan Mairson

        All good points, CM. I’d only add that National Geographic Magazine is different from most other media outlets because (a) most of its revenue still comes from members, not advertisers, and (b) it doesn’t typically rely on high-level access for its stories (most of them anyway). … Re: the food issue & Monsanto – I need to go back & find that one. Sounds pretty awful.

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  • http://alexgamela.com/blog Alexandre Gamela

    Ok, i wrote about this on my blog and now i understand i say pretty much the same you do here…not on purpose, i may just be reading you too much. I still need to capture the part about being brilliant though. And by the way, good to know you’re ok.

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  • steve

    how strange that brill’s “journalismonline” has decided to remove the link/article by aol’s bercovici that stated “within the next two weeks they (journalism online) will be announcing their first affiliates”… which should have been ~8 weeks ago.

  • http://www.watts60.blogspot.com/ Greg Watts

    The walls of fortress media are crumbling and the lunatics are being driven out of the asylum. Viva le revolution!

  • Paul Evans

    “But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph.”

    Can’t seem to find a list of who exactly was in that hall, but I would be surprised if many are actual content creators. Given the ticket prices, my guess is most present for this shindig are those who make money off content creators — like Curley and Murdoch.

    Still, ironies aside, it seems good some are finally putting their balls on the line with this paid content gambit. Everyone can argue forever about what will work, but these two — and many others in the US — are finally going to try and prove they’re right. If they are, then my newspaper may get an infusion of badly needed cash (though I bet AP intends to skim off the top of every news transaction they ‘broker’). If they are wrong, then they will finally be out of the way.

  • pd

    2 points:
    1) Would it be regarded as plagiarism if a TV network were to broadcast a scrolling presentation of tweets on the day of the American Presidential election?
    2) WSJ posted three lines about Steve Jobs’ recent operation. WSJ published the rest of the story behind the wall/curtain. I don’t know of anyone who paid to read the rest of the WSJ article. The rest of the world managed to get the story out there.

  • fjpoblam

    I’d almost like to see GOOG YHOO MSFT call the AP’s bluff http://is.gd/4awkN http://is.gd/4avfG and fetch all their news from [an]other source[s] …and let the AP die a slow and painful death

  • http://LincolnParishNewsOnline.wordpress.com Walter Abbott

    Speaking of local content, read here about how it will be in the future. Do all you editors and publishers remember those “cranks” whose letters to the editor you never would publish? Well, we are starting our own blogs and doing our own city council/county commission/school board reporting.

    Deal with it.

    http://www.newsweek.com/id/216703

    Peytonplace.com
    Bloggers across the country are obsessively chronicling small-town life.

    • Tex Lovera

      Walter-

      You sort of beat me to it. The funniest thing about Jeff’s link to AP’s own story about this issue, is that AP’s article has no comments section. At all.

      What would I have written there if I’d had the chance? This:

      “Hey, dumbasses. The only way I found out about your whining tirade was because a blogger linked to it. You STILL don’t get it!!”

      I also agree that Google et al should call their bluff: cut ‘em off at the knees, pull all links to their stories, and see how irrelevant they become.

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  • JHMcFadden

    “Content Kleptomaniacs” might be my favorite new phrase. I’m going to launch a new site, http://www.contentkpleptos.com, and just write 250 word summaries of AP and News Corp. articles. Ridiculous.

  • http://teachersboardexams.info Teacher Gina

    Instead of wringing their hands like spoiled little kids these guys need to learn how to play, if not change the game altogether.

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  • Jim Meiers

    Hi Jeff,
    many media people here in Germany celebrate you as “media guru” :) I think the biggest question is “What would google do without newspapers and newswires?” Here in Germany and Europe the newspapers own the newswires (oh, oh, for Americans that sounds like communism). If the papers die the newswires die and then google, huffpost, daylife dies…
    Huffpost, google and daylife for example have no journalist in Iraq or Afghanistan! You can give your neighbours flip camcorders but the hard news never come from “citizen journalist”. What is your solution?

    • Andy Freeman

      > If the papers die the newswires die and then google, huffpost, daylife dies…

      Not at all.

      http://www.michaelyon-online.com/

      Folks who produce good, valuable, and unique news have a future, but it will be tough for those missing any one of those three. In particular, good and valuable but not unique is a commodity, so it won’t be lucrative.

      Folks who reprint press releases are in trouble.

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  • Arash Robinson

    Perhaps Google should charge News Corp. every time one of their employees googles something while researching an article. Crazy.

  • John Evans

    If you spot obvious bias in an AP story, is it plagiarism to say what they said was wrong (or technically correct but aiming to push an agenda) and detail why?

    Huffington Post will thrive when newspapers die.

    • Jim Meiers

      Huffpost is in heavy use of AP and other newswires material! How will Huffpost earn enough money to create own content?
      The best idea from Vin Crosbie is that internet provider have to pay for the content, but it` s too late!

      • http://www.digitaldeliverance.com Vin Crosbie

        Jim, I don’t remember saying exactly that, which accidentally conflates two things I have said.

        Some time ago I said that for any micropayment system to succeed, it would have to work through the ISPs rather than forcing people themselves to signup and pay each Web site. I’m adamantly against site paywalls because the economics of New Media indicate that such paywalls will clearly fail to produce revenues and will curtail the sites’ usage.

        What I’ve stated as being too late is it’s too late for US and UK newspapers to wake up, realize, and fix these problems. They should have done so ten years ago.

  • James H

    Maybe it’s heresy here, but I think I could live with media outlets charging fees to users, particularly for content that is valuable in some way. Depends on how and how much they charge, of course. I am of the opinion that if a content creator is providing a useful service, that creator should be paid a professional’s wage. I’m not convinced, however, that online ads would necessarily cover that wage.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Maybe it’s heresy here, but I think I could live with media outlets charging fees to users, particularly for content that is valuable in some way.

      If you think that’s heresy on buzzmachine, you’re not paying attention.

      Pretty much every everyone on buzzmachine believes that content providers should charge for content in whatever way they like and should charge as much as they can.

      However, some/many of us point out that charging isn’t the same as collecting. Readers have a choice too. As a result, certain ways of charging won’t work for certain content providers. Also, certain content providers won’t be able to get more than certain amounts.

      I’ll put words in Jarvis’ mouth. He wants journalists to make as much money as possible. That’s why he tells them what’s possible, so they don’t waste their time going after the impossible.

      I think that Jarvis loves journalism. I’m pretty sure that the rest of the world doesn’t. Failure to take that into account has consequences.

      • James H

        *Shrug* perhaps I have read too much into certain comments/posts then. If so, apologies.

        Have the media considered collecting via large men in hand-tailored suits? I understand that can be an effective method …

        In all seriousness, I would really like a central service where I could subscribe to a basket of media for $15, $20, or what have you per month.

      • Andy Freeman

        No need to apologise. Many of the “professional journalists” who post here make the same mistake. They want things to stay the way that they never were and are incensed when Jarvis points out that they’re going to fail.

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