Posts about ap

NPR’s inevitable conflict

Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR, was just forced to resign by the network’s board. I don’t know what the spin will be, nor am I privy to the internal politics. But I will say that this is an indication of more trouble ahead for NPR on a few fronts.

First, the network lost a visionary leader who I know, first-hand, was doing great things. I told her executives that they were enjoying their work entirely too much while others in the news industry all have the worldview of Eeyore these days. NPR is initiating new journalistic endeavors around the country with Vivian’s leadership and support.

Second, this act reveals the NPR board as ballless in the face of pressure. Yes, the Juan Williams firing was bungled by NPR’s head of news but Schiller apparently forced her out and also let the buck stop at her. Yes, rightwing NPR haters entrapped chief fundraiser Ron Schiller in a kerfuffle of their making but he is gone. But that was not cause for Vivian Schiller to go. I’m afraid to see how they will acquiesce to pressure in the future.

Third, I say this is why NPR should get rid of federal funding so it gets rid of political strings and pressure. That leads to the biggest problem:

Fourth, look at the NPR board. It is comprised mostly of local stations. That made sense when the stations distributed NPR programming and paid for it. But today, NPR the network does not need the stations when it can distribute online, which is how radio will be distributed more and more. The stations that don’t add real value in their markets — such as WNYC does in mine — are screwed as their value as distributors diminishes. The stations’ audiences are going to shrink and with that their revenue. Most of them have no real local presence other than their towers. The stations also depend heavily — more than NPR does — on government support, so they cannot easily give it up and buy their independence. The board fired the last NPR CEO because he pissed off the stations. Now Schiller is gone. Who the hell would take this job next?

Bottom line: The stations’ interests and NPR’s interests are no longer aligned. That has been the case for some years. It is the elephant in the studio. Schiller tried hard to find ways to improve the stations’ lot. That’s why she created new content initiatives in their backyards, to have them create more value. But in the end, the stations will fear a stronger NPR.

This is parallel to what is happening at the Associated Press, which newspapers own. Its board, too, is run by local affiliates. But the majority of the AP’s revenue no longer comes from the papers but from other news outlets, broadcast and online. The newspapers won’t allow the AP to do what it must do to survive online: build its own brand and distribute widely on the internet. The newspapers, like the stations, face shrinkage and so they complain about the AP’s costs and try to beat it down. They are locked in inevitable conflict.

This is the untold story of the future of two important journalistic institutions in this country. There is a strategic cliff ahead. But no one dare speak of it. Watch out.

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.

Isn’t a game content, too?

The Associated Press is refusing to sign for credentials under the conditions put on control of game coverage by the SEC. OK, I think what the SEC is doing is silly, too, especially now that every damned fan in the stands can tell the world what’s happening in a game via blogs, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, and whatever comes next.

But isn’t the AP being a tad hypocritical?

Isn’t a game content and isn’t the SEC trying to assert control over that content the way the AP is threatening to assert control over news? What’s the difference between a score or a play – the very definition of hot news, no? – and a fact coming out of a press conference or news event? It’s all just information and information, once known, is a commodity that is best distributed now via the conversation. Neither institution can stop anyone with an ear from saying, “Did you hear?” And if they were smart, but they’re not, they’d figure out how to take advantage of that free marketing.

How (and why) to replace the AP

The Associated Press is becoming the enemy of the internet because it is fighting the link and the link is the basis of the internet. From Richard Perez-Pena’s New York Times story today:

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Them’s fightin’ words: quoting an article’s headline while linking to it would require licensing? This means we would have to get permission from and negotiate with sites before linking to them. That would kill the internet. It also would kill the Associated Press and the news organizations it cons into joining its dangerous crusade – make that its cartel – for no one will link to them and they will not be heard.

There has been much stupidity lately about how news should operate in the ecosystem in the internet – threats to try to extend copyright, the ominously named and ambiguously written Hamburg Declaration, the ACAP “standard” that would be a boon to spammers – but the AP’s shot across our bow is the most destructive and ignorant of them all. The AP doggedly refuses to understand the link economy of the digital age and its imperatives.

The AP would rather destroy the link economy. Oh, it probably won’t succeed, just because what it suggests is so impractical and illegal and ultimately undemocratic and unconstitutional. But like a bull in a knowledgeshop, it could do a lot of damage along the way, trying to rewrite the fair use that is the basis of the democratic conversation and rushing its members to even earlier graves by hiding their content from the readers it is meant to serve. Note well that most news organizations depend upon fair use every day when they quote somebody else’s story or comment on somebody else’s content. The AP is dangerous.

But that’s not the reason to replace it (it’s merely a bonus). No, the reason to replace the AP is because is that it is hopelessly, mortally outmoded for the digital age and its ownership structure – I blame its board of newspaper owners more than I blame its management – won’t let it be transformed for our new reality. We need a replacement that will better serve journalism and the public, not to mention the democracy.

The AP’s primary job is to distribute content. In a content economy, that worked well. In the link economy, what the AP does is a disservice to content because it cuts the links to the source by rewriting news. The AP also translates content from one medium to another, rewriting newspaper stories so they can be read on radio or TV; that, too, cuts the link to the source (and note that rip-and-read has been the worse enemy of original reporting since the invention of broadcast, long before the internet). And the AP adds some original reporting to the ecosystem but it can’t monetize that value in the link economy because to do so would compete with its owner/clients.

What we need is an infrastructure for a content marketplace online that rewards the creators of original reporting – not the copiers or the commodifiers (that is, the AP) – by exploiting the essential nature of how the internet operates, that is, the link.

I’ve called one fundamental example of this structure reverse syndication – and Politico has started implementing it. Look at it this way: In the old days – in the AP’s ways – Politico would have syndicated its story to other papers, which would have sold ads to earn the money to pay Politico. Now, of course, Politico’s story is just a link and a click away. So now another paper – say, the Chicago Tribune – can just link to Politico’s story. That rewards Politico for creating the story. But what about also rewarding the Tribune for adding value through the link, sending audience to Politico? It would be in Politico’s interest to pay the Tribune a share of its ad revenue for the article to encourage it to send more traffic and add more value. That is the missing piece.

Now imagine this Politico story sits out there on the internet with an ad on it and it is sharing that revenue with the Tribune proportional to the traffic the Tribune brings. Politico could sell that ad. But if the Tribune could get higher value, then it should sell the ad and share the revenue with Politico. Or a third party – oh, I dunno, Google – could sell the ad and share revenue with both. Whatever makes more money – that’s the question we should be asking; that’s what’s going to save the news business.

At the CUNY New Business Models for News Project, we are modeling the news ecosystem that we believe will emerge when a metro paper fades away. For our next project – when funded – I’d like to tackle this content marketplace infrastructure to look at what is needed: systems to track and pay and conventions to label content and draw audience to – and thus support – journalism at its source. With or without an AP, we need to improve the means by which original reporting is found and supported.

Another project I’d like to tackle is The New York Times’ favorite subject: how to support a Baghdad bureau in this new ecosystem. I don’t know that I have the answer or that there is one. Global Post is one try. There may be a need for support from charitable sources (the subject of my Monday Guardian column, which I’ll link to later). The AP and large, ambitious news organizations like The Times report from places where others can’t afford to go; we need to look at how to continue to do this.

That leaves the AP’s other role: translating content among media. Well, there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity. On Twitter, Reuters’ Chris Ahearn volunteered to step in. And online, there’s really no need to do that anymore; it takes all media.

Could the AP remake itself? Doubtful. Its owners won’t let it be run as a rational business – redefining rational for the link economy. It also isn’t structured to help its members remake themselves. I told the AP a decade ago, when I was still working for a client, that I wished it would start a national ad network for news sites, to help them succeed. But that’s just not the way they think.

I’ve also speculated with folks with money about buying the AP and remaking it for the digital age, without the handcuffs of its ownership structure. But every time, we come back to the gigantic wind-down costs that would entail, getting rid of parts of the operation that aren’t needed anymore. And that’s the problem: much of it isn’t needed anymore. Just ask the many newspapers that are canceling the service along with their $1-million-a-year bills. (See the Star-Ledger that was produced with a single AP pixel.)

So I think there are entrepreneurial opportunities to replace the AP and bring far greater benefit to content creators online – all content creators, not just the old news oligopoly. It’s time to break out the hammers.

(Disclosures: I am a partner at Daylife, a news aggregator. I was an advisor to Publish2, which also traffics in links. I was on the board of Moreover, which aggregates and creates feeds of headlines and links. I did all that because I see the potential of the link economy, by the way. I also wrote a book about Google – have I told you about that? – and have discussed many of these ideas with people there.)

: MORE: Note that the New York Times Company’s chief counsel does not think aggregation is a copyright issue.

: Note, too, that the “problem” of copyright violation is misdefined (a headline and a link is clearly not theft), and overstated (show me the millions of sites- other than spam blogs – that are copying whole articles), and wrongheaded in the idea that there’s a pot of gold here that will save the news business. It’s a big red herring. It’s a diversion from the real issue: the failure of the news industry to transform itself for the new economy. I guarantee you that if the AP goes ahead with this, it will pay lawyers more than it could ever earn. And it will hurt the industry and its brand in the process.

: Here’s a quick Marketplace story on the AP.

: TechDirt has some advice for Reuters: Go for it.

Distributing investigations

I’m delighted that the Associated Press is going to distribute the reporting of four nonprofit investigative news organizations: the Center for Public Integrity, the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and ProPublica. That will get their work seen in many more print outlets. Print.

Except — and I hate to have another exception with the AP — online that isn’t necessarily the best service to the work. In a search-driven ecology, the better thing to do is to send all traffic to the reporting at its source so that can rise in search. It also means that as stories are updated, readers can get the latest. And it gives these centers the opportunity to raise money with readers who care about their work. So I hope that the papers that print these stories online also link to the source.

Link to the best

After we had breakfast a week ago and talked about possible new roles for wire services in the new world, Wolfgang Büchner, who’s soon to take the top edit position at the Deutsche Presse Agentur (the German Associated Press), send me a link to this example of the agency curating and pointing to journalism at its source, which should surely be its most important job in the link economy.

Google: Drop the AP first

Forbes quotes AP head Tom Curley sabre-rattling in negotiations with Google: “Curley warned that if Google doesn’t strike the right deal with the AP soon, ‘They will not get our copy going forward.’” This is more than mere negotiation. The AP has been making noise about trying to force Google to favor it and its members in the search engine’s algorithms.

Forbes explains:

The AP, a 163-year-old cooperative owned by news organizations, won’t discuss its talks with Google, but plans to create landing pages and Web-based “news maps” directing users to original AP stories (and away from secondary sources who post material “borrowed” from the AP). To do this, the AP needs Google’s help. Most likely that means Google creating search protocols similar to those created from the licensing deal the AP inked with Google in 2006.

Since that deal was struck, Google has paid the AP undisclosed fees to carry AP content on the Google News section of the site. Search rankings on Google News give priority to recognizable news brands like the AP. But Google applies no such algorithmic discretion to general searches. The broader search rankings spread AP content out across the Web, says Curley, encouraging misappropriation by other sites. Curley wants Google to “protect content from unauthorized use and pay us for the longtail.” By “longtail,” Curley refers to the thousands of small sites that collectively drive vast herds of traffic using AP content.

THe AP is trying to play victim here, saying that Google is pointing to sites that steal its content. Name two. When I search for news, I can’t remember being taken to a thief. I’m often taken to the AP, which rewrites news and cuts the links to original journalism and thus cuts off the value of links. But not reputed thieves.

Now, apparently, the AP wants to start to rectify its role in the link economy by creating these news maps. OK, I’ll agree that there must be more linking directly to journalism at its source. But I don’t know why Google needs the AP to do that. It could improve its algorithms not to favor certain brands but to favor original reporting wherever it occurs, at the AP, at newspapers, or at blogs.

So it’s in the sense that I’ll suggest Google should cancel the AP contract first – not as retribution but as a service to journalism. Now GoogleNews runs full AP stories it licenses from the wire service, taking traffic away from AP members’ sites and pointing to rewrites of reporting rather than original reporting. If what we want is an ethic of linking to original journalism, then Google should consider no longer presenting full AP stories and, for that matter, linking to AP rewrites. That would serve original reporting. But we have to wonder whether serving journalism or the AP is the AP’s real strategy in these negotiations.

Danny Sullivan links us to an explanation of the AP’s tactics at AllThingsD earlier this month:

This has been construed in some quarters as a plan to create a search engine or news portal. But it’s really just an attempt to upgrade the AP’s search engine optimization strategy — that is, trying to get its stuff to show up higher on Google’s (GOOG) search results. It will do that via “search pages,” or “topic pages,” which are par for the course in the Web world….

If the search page plan works, the pages will be generating plenty of page views when people land on them, and it’s possible that the AP will sell ads on that inventory, Kennedy says. But their real function is to shuttle searchers to the original source material from the AP’s members.

So Google could cut out the middleman – the AP – and just link to the original journalism itself. But being bullied into linking to the AP and its members is not the way to go.

Sullivan explains:

Google’s web search quality team — which has nothing to do with Google’s business folks — generally does not take well to people suggesting they’re somehow going to own the search results. AP content probably will start ranking well for some things, but if it started showing up Wikipedia-style for everything, people outside the AP would start complaining about favoritism.

That’s what makes the Forbes piece so puzzling. AP chief executive Tom Curley (who the AP told me was “unavailable” to talk; nor after nearly two hours, does anyone else seem available) sounds naive enough to believe he can force Google into a deal that would give AP preferential treatment in regular search results….

Google News doesn’t give “recognizable news brands” a boost. I’ve never seen them say this, nor have I seen it actually happen in real life. Google News includes large and small news sites and lists a diverse collection of stories. I know lesser-known news sites do well because I run one of those. At times, I can have a headline story that beats the AP or other mainstream outlets in Google News….

Certainly if Google starts ranking brands better than other content, they’ll have issues. Brands do not equal trust. Enron had a brand; AIG has a brand — being a brand doesn’t mean that you are more trustworthy or deserve an automatic ranking boost. From my perspective, Google’s algorithm has continued to change over the past few years to reward trusted sites. Many brands have sites that Google has decided are trustworthy, but some don’t.

Curley is foolish if he thinks he’ll browbeat Google into somehow changing its algorithm in web search to reward AP as part of this deal. Google’s search quality engineers wouldn’t stand for that, any more than a journalist would stand for a newspaper CEO marching into a newsroom and demanding that certain advertisers get favorable stories written about them.

There’s the irony: Journalists would never stand for what the AP is allegedly trying to do on behalf of journalism. If an editor walked into a newsroom and told reporters: ‘I want you all to quote only big-company and government officials from this approved list and stop quoting little people,’ there’d be a proper revolt. Google’s engineers will protect the authority of their algorithm just as self-respecting journalists would protect their own independence and reputation.

So, Google: Resist the bullying and blackmail. Drop the AP. Perfect ways to link to and thus support journalism at its source. That is the better service to the public and news.

(Full disclosure: I’m a partner at another aggregator, Daylife. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve discussed both there and at GoogleNews the need to link to and thus support journalism at its source, wherever it occurs.)

: LATER: In the comments, Paul Colford of the AP corrects me:

AP sells only a selection of its staff-generated international and national news stories to Google and other commercial customers. A very small slice of this — less than 2 percent of the mix — comes from member newspapers, typically scoops that are credited to the papers.

Stories from member newspapers make up a much larger piece of AP’s state wires — but the state wires are not available to Google and others outside the AP membership.

I stand corrected. But then I would also say that the AP now has an unfair advantage over its members by selling its content to Google to distribute in full. Google does this only for wire services, not for anyone else. And I don’t want it to do this for others, because someone will get left out of the mix. So I still think Google should link instead, and link directly to original journalism.

The newswire of the future

Jackie Hai has a nice way to describe what follows the AP (my emphasis):

The AP syndication model works in an economy of information scarcity, whereas the web represents an economy of abundance.

Second, what the AP has failed to grasp is that the evolution of the participatory web has blurred the line between content producers, distributors and consumers to the point where everybody can be any and all of the three. The news wire of the future will not be centralized and top-down, but rather distributed and bottom-up.