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AP, Daily Newspapers Trying to Make Web Freeloaders Pay

By Ben L. Kaufman · August 18th, 2009 · On Second Thought
However you get your news online (video or text, YouTube, podcast, dead tree format, Daily Beast, etc.), you have an interest in moves by the Associated Press and others to prevent other online sites from using their content without paying.

Fittingly, AP plans to use the technology that promotes wide freeloading to a general crackdown. It will tag and track its online content. That should discomfit aggregators and others who use AP stories, summaries or links to draw eyeballs and advertisers without paying or sharing ad revenue. If AP can make it work, it makes sense.

Coincidentally, Editor & Publisher reports that “more than 1,000 publishers including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Dallas Morning News have signed on to participate in the Fair Syndication Consortium, a model built to help publishers, bloggers and others who create online content to receive compensation.” It wasn’t clear whether AP or Gannett, owner of The Enquirer and most Tristate suburban weeklies, has joined.

AdBrite, an online marketplace to buy and sell advertising, has agreed to work with the consortium to help partners make money from their content.

Major news media are expensive to run. That’s why people don’t start newspapers or news services without some other financial/operations base. It’s also why bloggers and aggregators depend on others to do their legwork or invite people to contribute without expectation of payment.

Without sufficient income, news media trim staff and content until income increases or the death spiral ends. Diminished ad revenue is a major reason The Enquirer has fewer, smaller pages, fired staff and, if doom-sayers are correct, is preparing another round of layoffs. As with other American dailies, it’s been hit by the double whammy of free Internet news and ads and the recession.

AP is different. It’s a cooperative “owned” by The Enquirer and another 1,400 U.S. dailies. Other media are clients. All pay for content, while AP content is cherry-picked by myriad web sites without permission or payment. That freeloading denies AP the revenue it needs to support its unequaled domestic and international coverage.

As American dailies falter and pare their spending, AP is increasingly vulnerable. Not only are dailies balking at AP rates, but in Ohio, eight papers are sharing content outside of AP in the OhNO consortium.

AP’s tag/target plan is meant to end the free lunch.

“The system will register key identifying information about each piece of content that AP distributes as well as the terms of use of that content, and employ a built-in beacon to notify AP about how the content is used,” the AP explained after its decision to counterattack.

AP said the registry initially would cover all AP text content online and be extended to AP members in early 2010. “Eventually, it will be expanded to cover photos and video as well. AP will fund development and operation of the registry through 2010, until it becomes self-sustaining.

“The registry will employ a microformat for news developed by AP and which was endorsed two weeks ago by the Media Standards Trust, a London-based nonprofit research and development organization that has called on news organizations to adopt consistent news formats for online content.

“The microformat will essentially encapsulate AP and member content in an informational 'wrapper' that includes a digital permissions framework that lets publishers specify how their content is to be used online and which also supplies the critical information needed to track and monitor its usage.”

The E&P article says Attributor, which tracks content across the Web, launched a complementary effort, the Fair Syndication Consortium, in April. Charter members include Thomson Reuters, Huffington Post, Politico and Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The other content providers that have joined the group include The Boston Globe, Community News Holdings, Conde Nast, Gawker, Hearst Newspapers, Lee Enterprises, Magazine Publishers of America, Media News Group, Morris Communications, McClatchy, News Canada, Newsweek, E.W. Scripps, A.H. Belo and The Oklahoman.

The consortium says its membership represents more than 50 percent of the top U.S. newspaper publishers.

“The Fair Syndication usage model is an important step forward in creating a thriving and sustainable commercial environment for our news agency and Reuters publishing businesses, as well as our peers in the publishing world,” Chris Ahearn, president of media at Thomson Reuters, says.

E&P says the Fair Syndication Consortium strategy is to track sites that swipe and reuse content from the original creators.

The Consortium would then contact the site as well as the networks serving ads for compensation.

Iggy Fanlo, CEO of AdBrite, says, “We see the Fair Syndication Consortium as an opportunity to increase monetization for original content while providing our publishers with an opportunity to leverage premium content of their sites.”

A recent example of this freeloading came in The Washington Post. Reporter Ian Shapiro says he initially was pleased that the popular Web site Gawker blogged about his profile of a Washington-based “business coach.” He came to Earth when an editor told him, “They stole your story. Where’s your outrage, man?”

Shapiro’d put days into the profile, the Gawker editor who lifted much of it and never gave him credit said it took 30 minutes, maybe an hour. There was, however, a link to The Post’s web site.

Shapiro showed both versions to First Amendment lawyer David Marburger, who said, “This is what in our opinion is a huge contributor to the demise of those who are originating news reports. If you don't change the law to stop this, originators of news reports cannot survive.”

Added Shapiro, “Current law basically allows the Gawkers of the world to appropriate others' work, repurpose it and sell ads against it with no payment to or legal recourse for the company that paid me…”

Curmudgeon Notes

• Here is some background on the continuing story of USEC’s plan to enrich uranium again at Piketon in southeast Ohio near Lucasville and Portsmouth. Piketon stays in the news in part because of financing problems and hopes the new business will create hundreds of jobs in a chronically depressed region.

This isn’t the nuclear power station Duke Energy is considering for the same area.

Because there is information relating to Piketon that I can’t remember from my days as an environment reporter and can’t find in contemporary coverage, I asked USEC spokesman Jack Williams to fill me in.

“The Piketon plant was originally built as a gaseous diffusion plant in the 1950s to support the Manhattan Project (that produced our nuclear weapons),” he said. “Over time, the plant's focus shifted from enriching uranium for the nation's defense to supplying low-enriched uranium for use in commercial nuclear power plants. In 2001, USEC made the business decision to cease enriching at Piketon while using the Paducah (Ky.) gaseous diffusion plant.”

When it was enriching uranium, Piketon used so much electricity that the output of two large coal-fired power stations were dedicated to its operations.

“As far as I know, both coal-fired plants are still in operation,” Williams continued. “Instead of providing power to this plant, they are providing power for resale to the public.”

That’s possible, he said, because “centrifuge enrichment technology does require much less electricity than gaseous diffusion (approximately 95 percent less), which would allow our company to provide enriched uranium at a more competitive price. I do not know the exact amount of power but for comparison, the gaseous diffusion plant used as much as 2,000 megawatts of power when in operations, as much as a large U.S. city.”

The power stations are Kyger Creek, near Gallipolis, Ohio, and Clifty Creek in Madison, Ind. They are owned by Ohio Valley Electric Corp./Indiana-Kentucky Electric Corp.

• John McIntyre went from The Enquirer to The Baltimore Sun, where he became copy desk chief, overseeing almost 50 copy editors. After 23 years, The Sun let him go in its current cost-cutting. Leaving a career dedicated to making reporters’ work better, he writes at Johnemcintyre.blogspot.com. In an interview with Mike Pesca on NPR’s On the Media, McIntyre explained why the shrunken Sun lurches along with six copy editors and many other papers follow suit:

“They are desperate to have enough reporters to generate enough material, and they have decided that they can sacrifice copy editors, that they can sacrifice quality and accuracy in order just to produce enough material. My sense is that you can only cheapen the quality of the product so far ’til you reach a point at which even your loyal customers will start to go elsewhere. … I suspect that one of the things that is on the minds of publishers of online enterprises is a sense that readers on the Internet don't expect things to be accurate or very well done and, therefore, they are used to tolerating a much higher level of shoddy work, a much greater volume of errors and, therefore, you can sacrifice the quality on the Web and it doesn't mean that much.”

• Gannett named The Enquirer’s Margaret Buchanan its top publisher of the year. This follows a similar award for editors to The Enquirer’s Tom Callinan and Enquirer alum Ronnie Agnew at The Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger. Gannett has 85 American dailies, including USA Today. Buchanan also is Interstate Group vice president. She received the U.S. Community Publishing division’s President’s Ring and Signet Award, given to 10-time President’s Ring winners. “Margaret’s work in finding new ways to serve our advertisers and consumers in Cincinnati during a transition year puts her at the head of the class among our publishers,” said Bob Dickey, president of Gannett U.S. Community Publishing. “She is a top-notch publisher on all fronts and a key player in the Group.” Another Enquirer alum, Andrew Oppmann, president and publisher of The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and The Leaf-Chronicle in Clarksville, Tenn., was second runner-up to Buchanan and a repeat winner.

The New York Times’ TV critic Alessandra Stanley makes so many errors that she sometimes has her own copy editor. Recently, she so badly screwed up a profile of Walter Cronkite that The Times ran an uncommonly long correction. She also was the subject of a brutal appraisal by The Times’ ombudsman. Here’s the correction:

“An appraisal on Saturday about Walter Cronkite’s career included a number of errors. In some copies, it misstated the date that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and referred incorrectly to Mr. Cronkite’s coverage of D-Day. Dr. King was killed on April 4, 1968, not April 30. Mr. Cronkite covered the D-Day landing from a warplane; he did not storm the beaches. In addition, Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, not July 26. The CBS Evening News overtook The Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC in the ratings during the 1967-68 television season, not after Chet Huntley retired in 1970. A communications satellite used to relay correspondents’ reports from around the world was Telstar, not Telestar. Howard K. Smith was not one of the CBS correspondents Mr. Cronkite would turn to for reports from the field after he became anchor of The CBS Evening News in 1962; he left CBS before Mr. Cronkite was the anchor. Because of an editing error, the appraisal also misstated the name of the news agency for which Mr. Cronkite was Moscow bureau chief after World War II. At that time it was United Press, not United Press International.”

This wasn’t a deadline story. He was still dead. Stanley had days to check her information. Editors had days to catch her errors. As ombudsman Clark Hoyt put it, “a television critic with a history of errors wrote hastily and failed to double-check her work, and editors who should have been vigilant were not.”

Columbia Journalism Review’s Craig Silverman added, “In 2005, a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote about her inaccuracies, and others followed up. She became a marked woman. Stanley didn’t do herself any favors. She misspelled the name of the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond. She accused Geraldo of a nudge that never was. She mistook ‘trustiness’ for ‘truthiness’ and invited the wrath of Stephen Colbert. She upset ABC News after making errors and questionable claims about Charlie Gibson. And she confused Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Garner. … When you’re a critic for The New York Times, you simply can’t make these kind of mistakes and expect to escape scrutiny. Or, yes, mockery. Back in 2005, Gawker used Nexis to conduct a corrections-per-article study of Times columnists. It discovered Stanley was, at the time, the paper’s most error-prone columnist.”

Then CJR counted: “Stanley has been responsible for nine corrections so far this year. By my count in Nexis, she had 14 corrections in 2008, 12 in 2007 and 15 in 2006. Averaging just over a correction a month is not something to be proud of. But that’s still better than before she attracted so much attention. Stanley had 23 corrections in 2005, the year everyone noticed her predilection for error, and 26 in 2004. Perhaps the decline in corrections between 2005 and 2006 was in part due to the attention focused on her.”

The Times is a more political institution internally than it is nationally. Writers with clout get away with shit that mere mortal reporters do not.

Jayson Blair fabricated all or parts of dozens of stories despite doubts by some editors. Judith Miller’s pimping for the Pentagon and Iraqi émigrés in the runup to the Iraq war escaped normal editing standards.

So who’s protecting Stanley? The ombudsman doesn’t say. And what does it take to get fired at The Times (other than a loss of ad revenue?)



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