Tales of the Sausage Factory

Now Associated Press Has A Plan So Cunning Even They Don't Know How It Works. (Updated)

It seems every now and then I see some company or organization that finds itself challenged by the fact that the internet gives people lots of interesting alternatives and thus upsets traditional business models. This prompts said company to flail around for a bit, denouncing how piracy or whatever is unfairly destroying it, then announcing some stunning new proposal or plan that lashes out at this supposed piracy. Usually, since the problem is not “piracy” but “competition,” this plan makes no sense whatsoever.

As I noted previously, the newspaper industry generally is flailing around and proposing all kinds of foolish things rather than figuring out how to adapt and thrive in new market realities where people and advertisers have a very different set of choices and the days of 20% profit margins are gone. The Associated Press is the latest organization to jump off the deep end. AP believes that by setting up a “beacon” system for its content it can require everyone “stealing” its content to pay royalty fees.

There are several problems with this scheme. First, the article does not make clear whether it tries to cover linking as “using content” for free. I’m not sure that it could, nor does it make sense given their theory of “piracy.” If I link to an AP story, I haven’t copied anything and clicking the link actually brings people to the content — the desired result from AP’s perspective. Nor can the AP prevent me from describing an AP story even without a link. Heck, many of my local radio stations do this with my local newspapers, simply summarizing articles with an attribution. So if the object is to prevent people from linking to AP articles, or discussing AP articles (the “free ride” that so incenses the traditional news media and its defenders), this proposal really doesn’t seem likely to help.

The AP can prevent wholesale copying of its articles where the amount copies exceeds fair use. But, as the article linked to above points out, the AP already uses software to do this. The new system may make it easier to license AP works (a result I would heartily support — AP should use technology to make it easier to monetize its content with license fees for reprints), but the description seems to go well beyond that. Either I am dramatically underestimating the number of websites that reproduce significant amounts of AP content over and above linking and simple descriptions of stories (which is certainly possible), or the technology dramatically lowers the transaction cost of licensing content and thus makes collection of license fees easier, or this fails to strike at the real root of the problem — people have lots more options for news.

Ultimately, it is this last point that has me scratching my head about how the AP expects this to work. If the AP locks up its content, I can find lots of other news content. True, AP might be “better” — although modern reporting leaves me dubious. But the ability to access, debate and discuss news far outweighs any marginal superiority in quality AP can claim over other outlets (which include many traditional news outlets with high quality reporting) that provide accessibility.

There is a delightful historic irony here, in that AP was to some extent the product of the last revolution in telecommunications. Ubiquitous telegraph service made it possible for small news organizations to have the same reporter resources as larger operations by sharing costs among their members and leveraging local reporters. Finally, papers in small towns and on the frontier could run the same stories as the NY Times or the London Telegraph, reporting news from around the world thanks to a global communications network. Larger papers, which had traditionally held a huge advantage from their superior ability to send reporters to distant sources of news and receive faster reports, found they had to join the AP themselves or risk missing important stories covered by the AP’s superior network of on the ground reporters already present as news developed.

AP should learn from its own past and adapt to the future, rather than trying to fight the future and cling to the past. AP and other news media need to work on how to leverage the advantages of a global communications network that allows for distribution of news reporting resources rather than chasing phantom “pirate” gold.

Stay tuned . . . .

Update: This article in Columbia Journalism Review clarifies that the intent is to go after those who are doing wholesale copying, rather than those linking or quoting. As I said above, good for them. I hope that the program in question actually provides some data on how widespread this practice really is. Given the tools that already exist to find direct copying, I’m not sure how this new beaconing adds value.

Posted in Fighting the IP Mafia, Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Footnote to Harold: Media Dynamics 101

Harold Feld provides an insightful analysis of the right wing noise machine’s attack on Oprah. As this is kind of an advanced topic in media watching, involving feints and jujitsu-like tactics, I think it may be useful to ground the analysis in elementary theory, viz, short run optimization:

1) The “news” media (and this includes Keith Olberman and other so-called liberals), has only one interest, and that is to make money.
2) They make money by selling advertising.
3) The more people who watch them, the more money newsmedia make.
4) More people watch “the news” when there is a tight race, or better still, controversy and a tight race. Viewers are seeking entertainment, not to become better informed about policy.
5) Therefore, the media will do whatever they can possibly do to ensure a tight race with lots of controversy.

Coralarries to theorem 5, above, are that things that distract from the entertainment value of the news, such as coverage of wars that are not going so well, will be minimized. People watch TV that flatters them and rewards their laziness; therefore TV news advances the point of view that personalities are more important than policies–because most people consider themselves good judges of personalities & it requires no work to decide whether or not you like somebody.

The only national news media figure who is an exception to this dynamic is Jon Stewart. He clearly cares about the country and respects our constitution. Stewart makes money by serving the considerable minority of viewers who actually want to understand what’s going on in our government.

Below the fold: Media Dynamics 102: long run optimization

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Posted in infotainment, My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged , , | 3 Comments (Comments closed)

My Thoughts Exactly

Jack Welch, Karl Rove, media cartels, and the subversion of democracy

By way of Smirking Chimp I come across this fascinating (and utterly depressing) account of how Karl Rove “reached out” to (Saint) Jack Welch, A.K.A “the buzz saw”, Chairman of General Electric, the parent company of NBC, and how together they put in place the right wing noise machine that masquerades as our nation’s electronic news media.

Posted in "A Republic, if you can keep it", My Thoughts Exactly | Also tagged , , , | 2 Comments (Comments closed)

Tales of the Sausage Factory

Why wait for the Daily Show for Fake News?

This goes back a ways. Between vacation for Passover and the net neutrality fight, this fell a bit by the wayside. But it is still an important issue.

Back on April 6, my friends over at Free Press, working with the Center for Media and Democracy, have issued a rather stunning report on how local television stations rebroadcast “video news releases” — press releases created by corporations — as real news. For example, a “news story” about a new drug treatment may, in fact, an advertisement created by the drug company and packaged to look like a news report.

Free Press subsequently hosted a “blogger briefing” call, which you can listen to here. FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstien spoke. And I attended wearing my blogger hat.

My thoughts on this most recent disclosure of how pathetic our news media has become below.

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Posted in Tales of the Sausage Factory | Also tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment (Comments closed)
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