Spain’s link tax forces Google News to shut there

Google News just announced that Spain’s recently passed link tax has forced the net giant to remove Spanish publishers from Google News and shut off the service in Spain come Tuesday.

Thus a link tax intended to protect Spain’s publishers will only end up harming them — depriving them of untold audience — and could even end up killing the weakest among them. Spain will also bring damage to the web itself and to the country’s reputation, establishing itself as a hostile environment for investment in technology.

Be careful what you wish for, you old, threatened institutions of media and government, huddling together against the cold wind of the new.

Spain’s link tax is inspired by a similar ancillary copyright law in Germany but goes well beyond the Teutonic statute in one key aspect: The Spanish law requires aggregators (read: Google News) to pay publishers (read: newspapers) for linking to and quoting content at any length. Publishers cannot waive the payment. Thus, come January 1, Google said it could not afford to pay for quoting and sending traffic to the publishers in a service where Google places no ads and says it makes no money.

In Germany, the game over its ancillary copyright law — the Leistungsschutzrecht in local parlance — played out as a theatre of the ridiculous. Quoting a piece I wrote about the sequence for Die Zeit:

Their battle reached a crescendo of absurdity as:
(1) a Leistungsschutzrecht was written to forbid Google et al from quoting snippets of publishers’ content;
(2) the legislation was amended to allow snippets;
(3) publishers sued Google anyway for using snippets, demanding 11 percent of Google’s related revenue;
(4) Google said it would stop using snippets from the litigious publishers;
(5) those publishers accused Google of blackmailing them for taking down the snippets the publishers were themselves using to blackmail Google;
(6) government officials laughed the publishers out of the cartel office;
(7) most of the publishers capitulated because they need traffic from Google;
(8) Springer pulled permission to publish snippets from Die Welt and three minor sites but not from its superbrand, Bild; and
(9) Springer itself capitulated after confessing it lost too much traffic from Google and arguing this demonstrated Google’s crushing market power.
The publishers have succeeded in humiliating themselves, their industry, and their nation.

In Germany, publishers led by conservative powerhouse Axel Springer used their considerable political capital to enlist politicians at all levels to play a game intended to box their boogeyman giant, Google, into a corner. They lost to fight another day. In Spain, though, something was gained in the translation and the government, goaded by its publishers, struck a tragic blow against the web itself.

Of course, the internet is suffering many more bruises in Europe. There is the fight against Google Street View in Germany and Google’s right to take pictures of public views from public streets, pushing Google to abandon updating its photographic maps there. There is the so-called right to be forgotten from a European court, which tramples over the right to remember, the right to free speech, and the right to a free press, as publications are quickly learning. As the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, said in Paris this week: “The right to access history is important.” And there is the political pressure brought to bear from publishers that drove the European Union to abandon its antitrust settlement with Google.

I bring my own perspective to this story. I am an American. I am a fan of technology, of Google, of capitalism. As a matter of disclosure, please know that Google has paid my travel to events in Spain and Germany to speak on this topic (like Google, I don’t much like losing money) but never a fee. So take what I say about Google with a grain of salt the size of a cow’s saltlick, if you’d like.

But consider the damage to the web and the internet brought by these protective measures from disrupted publishers and politicians conspiring together. Consider the damage to Spain’s, Germany’s, and Europe’s hopes to build their own futures in technology, to attract entrepreneurs and investment and the risk that invention requires. Consider the damage to speech, to the ability of any of us to quote and link to anyone else.

Last month, I attended an “unconference” of journalists, publishers, educators and technologists convened in Phoenix by Google and the Knight Foundation (further disclosure: the latter is a funder of my work at the City University of New York). In an unconference, the participants set the agenda. I was one of more than a few participants who requested a session asking what Google could do for news. At that meeting, we discussed many wishes.

Myself, I wish Google would help news organizations new and old break out of old business models and find new means of sustaining themselves on the net. I wish that Google would help us explore new means of distribution, going to the public rather than making them come to us. I wish that Google would increase its investment in media startups — especially in Europe.

But more than anything, I wish that Google would speak up more often and more boldly in defense of the net itself. I wish Google would defend the net more aggressively against spying by the NSA and GCHQ. I wish Google would defend itself and the net against the protectionism and political opportunism of publishers and politicians. That is just what Google has done in refusing to capitulate to Spain’s link tax. Google is defending the freedom of the link and thus of the web itself.

Geeks Bearing Gifts: Content vs. Service

Here is the second chapter of my book, up on Medium for free. It argues that journalism is a service. That means that we’re not in the content business. That is heresy. So shoot me. The lede:

Screenshot 2014-12-08 at 10.37.21 AM

Is news really a content business? Should it be? Perhaps defining ourselves as content creators is a trap. That worldview convinces us that our value is embodied entirely in what we make rather than in the good people derive from it. The belief that our business is to produce a product called content is what drives us to build paywalls around it — to argue that the public should pay for what we make because it costs us money to make it and, besides, they’ve always paid for it. It motivates us to fight over protecting our content from what we view as theft — using copyright — rather than recognizing the value that content and the information in it can bring in informing relationships. As content creators, we separate ourselves from the public while we create our product until we are finished and make it public — because that is what our means of production and distribution long demanded; only now are we learning to collaborate during the process. Our monopoly over those means of production also convinced us that we could own, control, and wield pricing power over this scarcity called content. 

These circumstances left us ill-prepared for a technological era when copies cost nothing; when content and thus competition are abundant; when information becomes a commodity the instant it can be passed on with a link and click; and when the value of information — before it is spread and known — has a half-life now measured in milliseconds. Content, it turns out, is not a great business. 

To suggest that we are not in the content business is to argue that journalists are not primarily storytellers: high heresy indeed. That idea pulls the rug out from under everything we assume and hold dear about our craft and trade: our job descriptions, our production processes, our legal status, our measures of success, and certainly our business models. Fear not: Content will continue to be valued. But content’s value may be more as a tool than as an end in itself and certainly not as our only product. 

Well then, if we are not in the content business, what business are we in? Consider journalism as a service….

Read the rest of the chapter here. If you can’t wait for the rest, then you can buy the book here.

That German guy and his beard


Just a brief post to cross the language barrier with an amusing story going on in German media.

Kai Diekmann is the explosively colorful, diabolically charming, dangerously brilliant, stunt-prone editor-in-chief of the largest paper in Europe, Bild (it’s a tabloid in spirit that is printed on really big paper so the bare breasts are bigger). His company, Axel Springer, scares even big, (not) bad Google. He unseated a German president. He is powerful.

For reasons I cannot remember — I think it had something to do with his nine-month-long visit to Silicon Valley, during which he partook of many delicious, digital lotus leaves — Diekmann started growing a beard that became his temporary trademark. His Christmas card last year was of him with a beard that wouldn’t stop growing. He retweeted every beard joke about him.

Today, in a stunt to end all stunts (well, probably not), Kai is shaving the beard on national TV. To benefit the Bild charity Ein Herz Für Kinder (A Heart for Children), the razor giant Gillette — of course — and supermarket giant EDEKA are paying 100,000€ to shave off Kai’s beard.

The German advertising magazine W&V calls it what it is: content marketing with a beard. The editor as native advertising.

One can hardly imagine a stuffy American editor doing such a thing. Heaven forbid. But, of course, American journalism used to have such larger-than-life editors: Hearst, Pulitzer, and James Gordon Bennett, Jr., whose paper, the New York Herald, was the namesake of the square where he is now memorialized and who funded expeditions to Africa (Stanley, meet Livingstone) and the Arctic:

bennett herald square

Digital media may breed such characters. Arianna Huffington was herself a bit of a swashbuckler, until she disappointingly — in my mind — shifted her ambitions from running the world to being Oprah. This week at CUNY, we gave the Knight Innovation Award to Shane Smith — he just returned from jumping off a helicopter in the antarctic — who has built an impressive empire atop his strong editorial voice. (Disclosure: He and Knight awarded the school $500,000 to establish a fund to support young journalists around the world.) But how many others are there?

Well, anyway, tonight Diekmann will be clean-shaven once again. I understand his wife will be relieved.

: Half-a-postscript: Halfway there:

Finally:

Geeks Bearing Gifts: No Mas Mass Media

Screenshot 2014-12-05 at 1.13.57 PMI’ve just posted the first chapter of Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News on Medium. The gist of it: The mass is dead. Or we should kill it, which is only fair because we in media started it. The mass was a relic of Gutenberg-era technology. The idea of the mass determines and corrupts our business model and our relationships with the public and our forms of news. The net allows us to see people as individuals and communities. We need to start. Here’s a snippet of that brief chapter:

I still hear people my age lament the passing of the Cronkite era’s grand shared experience of media, as if we all were meant to sit at the same time watching the same images of the same news. That was a short-lived era indeed, from the mid-’50s — when the arrival of television killed the diversity of voices from competitive newspapers in most American cities, leaving the lone survivors to serve everyone the same — to the mid-’90s and the arrival of the internet, which mortally wounded those monopolistic newspapers and threatened TV’s media hegemony. But the net’s real victim was not one medium or another. What it killed was the idea of the mass. 

Should we continue to serve people as a mass now that we can serve and connect them as individuals? I will argue throughout this essay that relationships — knowing people as individuals and communities so we can better serve them with more relevance, building greater value as a result — will be a necessity for media business models, a key to survival and success. Yes, of course, we will still make content. But content is not the end product. It is only one tool we will use to inform and serve our communities and their members.

Read the rest here.

I’ll be putting the entire book up on Medium. But, of course, you can still make our publishing imprint and my bosses happy by buying the book or the Kindle or you can buy it directly from our friends at OR books.

My new book coming to Medium: Free!

Starting today, I’ll be putting my new book onto Medium, all of it for free.

Screenshot 2014-12-03 at 9.35.05 AMGeeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Future for News is an essay that metastasized into a book. It is my attempt to answer the question I’m often asked: “OK, smartass, now that your damned, beloved internet has ruined news, what next?” When asked what I had to say about paywalls or advertising or the fate of the article or the ideas behind social journalism, I wanted something to point to. This is that. It is not a prediction or a prescription but instead a call to focus on the opportunities technology presents to news rather than the problems. A snippet from the introduction, which I’m posting today:

If I had a plan, I’d be eliminating possibilities. I’d be predicting the future and prescribing it. But I’m not trying to do that. If we define the future today, we’ll do so in the terms of our past. Horseless carriages. We still have more imagining to do. That’s what this essay is: an exercise in personal brainstorming — one I’d like to see undertaken by journalism students, journalism teachers, journalists, publishers, media companies, technologists, investors, activists, and anyone who cares about news and society. If we don’t imagine many futures, we can’t build any. We must start by questioning three key industrial assumptions about news, or we’ll never get past trying to preserve them. 

* First, that the natural role of the public in relation to journalism is as the mass, as an audience — or as my friend Rosen calls them now, the people formerly known as the audience. Who are they today? What roles can they play? How does this shift in roles affect the value of the journalist in this new relationship? In the first part of this essay, I will propose different perspectives for conceiving of the role of journalism in society: as a service, a builder of platforms, an organizer, an advocate, a teacher, an incubator. I will argue that journalism must learn how to get into the relationship business; that, I believe, can be a foundation for a new business strategy for the news industry. 

* Second, that the article is the atomic unit and necessary product of news and that journalists are storytellers. Articles, I am sure, will remain a key tool journalists will use to add value to a flow of information — with narrative, organization, context, summary, example, and discussion. But in the second part of this essay, I will try to move past the article or story to examine other forms news may take: as data (our current darling) and also as functionality, as platforms, as sets of information assets with many paths through them, as curation, as conversations. 

* The final assumption: That old business models can be recreated in a new reality, that newsrooms will (or won’t) be preserved, that print won’t (or will) survive, that people will or should (or won’t) pay for news, that advertising must (or can’t) support news, that media companies will control news (or die). I don’t believe that news is in jeopardy. We see increased access to news, interest in it, need for it, means of sharing it, and discussion about it online. I don’t think demand is the problem. Business models most certainly are a problem (though to say that business models are the only problem is to fool ourselves into thinking that the rest of journalism needn’t change). So I will concentrate in the third part of this essay on possible new models, including some we have been studying at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism, which I direct at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. The goal is to find sustainable — that is, profitable — support for news. But that is not merely a discussion of replacing lost revenue; we also must examine new efficiencies in what will surely be smaller, post-monopoly news enterprises. Mostly, we must concentrate on where and how journalism adds value to a community’s knowledge and only then consider how it can extract value for its sustenance. So perhaps the news industry must think past the idea that it is in the content, advertising, and distribution businesses. Perhaps we should ask whether — like Google and Facebook — news instead should be a service that helps people accomplish their goals. Here I return to the relationship strategy for news and explore the opportunity to build new business models around value over volume.

I’ll be posting every chapter of the book on Medium, one or a few at a time, over the coming weeks. Of course, you can still make our publishing imprint and my bosses happy by buying the book or the Kindle or you can buy it directly from our friends at OR books.

This week at my journalism school, we held a summit on innovation and gave the Knight Innovation Award to Vice’s Shane Smith. My great and good friend Bill Gross started off the day with a keynote about what he has learned starting 125 companies. I recommend it highly. As you watch it, imagine what journalism could be if it were filled with entrepreneurs like Bill and Shane who saw problems at things to solve and found opportunities there.

I want to thank the wonderful Kate Lee at Medium and the great creative services team there for making Geeks Bearing Gifts look so great. I will be posting the first chapter tomorrow.

Journalism & technology: to duel or dance?

I have a yes-but relationship with Emily Bell. I say yes to most every brilliant thing she says but sometimes am foolish enough to add a but.

Go read Emily’s important speech on journalism’s relationship to technology and its masters in Silicon Valley. I will say yes to her argument that algorithms that determine distribution spring from editorial decisions. I will say yes to her concerns about the implications of those formulae for journalism and an informed society. I couldn’t agree more with her endorsement of Zeynep Tufecki’s brilliant exploration of the issues surrounding open v. filtered communication for news: It’s Twitter’s openness, its immunity from gatekeepers either algorithmic or editorial, that allowed news from Ferguson to emerge online before it emerged on the news. It’s Twitter’s openness that also makes it a Petri dish for trolls, harassers, and terrorist beheading videos. I say yes to Emily’s reminder that the platforms we’re discussing are still very new; the Jell-O is still warm and formative.

But I would remind readers that it was technology that freed journalism from its bondage to media moguls and corporations. Who’s to say that our corporations were better than their corporations? We have Murdoch. They have Uber.

I would remind us all that the craft of journalism and the business of news have had 20 years — an entire generation — since the introduction of the commercial web to understand that they should be about more than manufacturing content to fill products and messages to feed to a public that didn’t necessarily ask for them. We have had 20 years to learn to serve people as individuals with relevance and value as Google does; and serve communities with tools to gather, share, and interact as Facebook does; and serve advertisers with greater efficiency as both of them do. And we didn’t. Can we yet learn to create our own technology? We’re not so young as Silicon Valley. Based on our miserable performance thus far, I have my doubts.

I strongly agree with Emily that there must be a discussion about the ethics and principles of the algorithms that distribute, filter, and thus shape the information that cascades over us, now that everyone can publish and share. But my first reflex is not always to build our own; see the prior two paragraphs. My first reflex is to help Silicon Valley define evil and good. As journalists we have a role in sparking and informing discussion of issues that matter to society; that’s our skill, no? I agree with Emily that this is an issue that matters. So let us start there.

Emily and I were both at a — I choke at the label — unconference at Arizona State’s journalism school last week called #Newsgeist. It was convened by the Knight Foundation (which funds both of our work) and Google. I jumped at the chance to join a discussion that I and others had proposed, asking: What could Google do for news? There were many suggestions around the distribution — the embedding — of news in containers that news creators can control and benefit from; around advertising and data; around security.

I now wish that Emily had raised and I’d have seconded a suggestion to convene a discussion with Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al to grapple with the issues she as well as Zeynep and others raise about the ethical issues presented by both filters and openness.

I would remind us all that just because we in the news business used to control the entire chain of news — from deciding what was news to deciding how to cover it to writing the stories to packaging those stories to manufacturing their container to distributing the container to setting prices for both readers and the advertisers who subsidized us — there’s nothing to say that we can or should continue to maintain that vertical hegemony. The web demands and rewards specialization. We now work in ecosystems that demand and reward collaboration.

I chose to write this on Ello, which was built as a protest against Facebook’s power. Bravo for that. But we know that no one will discover it there. I have but one follower, the one who invited me at my request to join the platform. I will tweet this. I will share it on Facebook. I will add it to Google Plus. I will link to it on LinkedIn. (I repost it here.) I will hope for the kindness of friends and strangers to pass it on. They, our public — not an editable algorithm — are the real gatekeepers now. What I have to say will resonate or not depending on whether anyone thinks this falling tree is worth listening to. An algorithm may or may not help that along. That is our circumstance.

I won’t discourage any journalist from building technology — I encourage many of my entrepreneurial students to gather teams with technologists to do just that. But I am not ready to pin my hopes for the future of journalism on the unicorn much sought after and PowerPointed at #Newsgeist: the elusive hack-hacker, the programmer-journalist.

I am certainly not willing to pin my hopes on government regulation. I’ll soon have an essay published in Germany in which I take my journalistic colleagues there to task for running to government to attack Google et al because they could not reimagine their craft and business in our new circumstance, bringing forth an avalanche of unintended consequences: bad regulation, bad law, bad precedent. But I also take Google to task for not doing more to rethink the task and responsibility of informing society.

I agree with Emily that we must report, report, and report with the skepticism many — especially the technology press — have let slip away. I’m worried about the journalists who have criticized Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith for reporting on Uber’s idea to perform opposition research on PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy. I’m worried about the journalists who criticized the Guardian for reporting on Whisper’s — not to mention the NSA’s — dubious doings. The critics fear that Buzzfeed and the Guardian will ruin it for the rest of them — that is, cut off their access to technology’s powerful. The new inside-the-Beltway is the inside-the-101-and-280. What’s insidious in both is journalists’ desire to be inside.

But skepticism need not beget cynicism. I can well be accused of being too optimistic about technology and its makers. I do that to counteract what I see as the Luddite reflex of too many in my field — I’ll link to that German essay when it is published — to attack technologists as the enemy because they ruined the business for us. I think there is a chance to work together. I think we need to.

As a journalist and now an educator my response to the issues Emily raises has been to convene discussions with Silicon Valley about its responsibilities — not to us journalists but to the public we both seek to serve.

Innovation day at CUNY with Shane Smith and Bill Gross

shane-smith
We have a few seats available for a great event on innovation and news at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism on Monday Dec. 1, starting at 230p and running through a reception ending at 730p:

* We will give Vice founder Shane Smith the Knight Innovation Award.
* Bill Gross, founder of Idealab and more than 125 companies, will deliver a keynote about how he innovates and invents, with lessons for us in media.
* A panel including former gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout; Betaworks data genius Gilad Lotan; Milena Berry of PowerToFly; and angel investor Alicia Syrett– all from outside media — will explore the challenges and opportunities of media.
* Smith will also award a give-forward grant to a journalistic startup of his choice.
* I will present my new book, Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News — and give away copies.
All that plus wine, beer, and discussion.

Details here. Register here.

Geeks Bearing Gifts: Imagining New Futures for News

GeeksBearingGifts_CVR_101814_Mech_Rev.indd

I have a new book about the future of news — or rather, about imagining many possible futures for news. It is my answer to the question I often hear: “So now that your damned, beloved internet has ruined news, what now?” I can’t and won’t predict. But I will explore opportunities the digital age presents for new relationships, new forms, and new business models for news.

I meant to write a white paper — my response to the fine papers out of Columbia. It metastasized into a book. In it, I explore many ideas I’ve discussed on my blog and with news organizations I’ve worked with. It is a personal brainstorming. I hope many others — journalists, publishers, journalism students, journalism teachers, technologists, entrepreneurs, investors — will also imagine more futures for news.

The book is published by the CUNY Journalism Press with help from OR Books. You can buy the paperback here; the ebook here; the combination here. There will soon be links to buy it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Google Play.

In addition, I will be posting the book, section at a time, on Medium, which is helping me do that. So you can read it for free there or help support CUNY by buying a copy.

I’ll be eager to hear what you think.