I’ve always loved that New York Daily News headline which trashed Gerald Ford during New York City’s 1970s financial crisis: “Ford to New York: Drop Dead!” So I thought I’d reuse it here to describe the media’s blithe indifference to bloggers.
There seems to be a deep philosophical divide between those who populate the web world and those who populate the publishing (media) world. The web was designed (with the glaring exception of Microsoft) to share information among users as quickly and widely as possible. Most online resources do not view themselves as “owning” their sources of information. They might want to be the first to distribute a piece of news or information, but ownership seems an alien concept. Not so in the media where control of information seems a high priority. Media outlets not only want to own information, they want to control how you access it, when you access and where you access it.
Which brings me to the subject of my wrath: the New York Times and her fellow media sources. Bloggers do great service to these news outlets by quoting from articles, placing links in their blogs, spreading the word throughout the web. Bloggers increase online awareness of both the publication and specific articles quoted in blogs. Instead of embracing bloggers, these publications treat them like the general online public and deny access to many of their best articles after a short period (a week in the case of the New York Times). I’d like to see the “open sourcing” philosophy percolate down into the media as it relates to blogging and bloggers.
Here’s a case in point: Frank Rich wrote Had Enough of the Flag Yet?, a memorable piece on the U.S. media’s incessant drumbeat of patriotism and how the headlong rush to wave the flag during the Iraq war did a great disservice to the nation and journalism. I waited till July 16th to write my post which would’ve publicized this article. By then, it was too late & I would’ve had to pay the NYT for my access to it. As a result, I never wrote a post about the article. Today, I found the link above, which is not to the New York Times, because they’ll make you pay for it. Common Dreams, an online news resource for the progressive community, won’t.
Which brings me to another important guerilla technique: there are alternative ways to find articles online. If you want to access a locked down article from, say, the New York Times, I suggest that you do a web search using the exact name of the article or the author’s name. This should take you to alternative media sites that catalogue such news sources. Et voila, you have your article without paying for it! I’ve been able to find several old articles this way including the one I referred to above.
So here we see the bizarre and convoluted situation in which a blogger who wants to link to a New York Times article must find it online off-NYT site and then link to that independent site. If I were the NYT, I’d be upset with this arrangement, but they’ve really brought it on themselves.
I twice e mailed the New York Times webmaster & suggested that they have a different policy for bloggers, allowing them access to articles. A blogger would provide proof of blog ownership and would sign an agreement guaranteeing use of articles only in their blog. Of course, the webmaster never responded. The blogging community may still be too small for large media outlets to notice it (outside of technology sections).
I know that this proposal for no-fee access would rely on quaint notions like honor, which are no longer honored today–and perhaps bloggers WOULD abuse this arrangement if given a chance. But there could be limits on access like a link/read-only (no printing) policy that would limit abuse.
If the media doesn’t like the gratis proposal here’s an alternative: blogging services, either individually or as a group, could negotiate with media outlets, either individually or via a “coalition of the willing,” for blogger access to news articles. Either individual bloggers or blogging services would pay an access fee to the outlets. The fee could either come out of the blogging service user fee or be an add-on fee the blogger pays either to the outlet or the blogging service. The amount of the fee could be based on the number of sources the blogger wanted access to. I’d be willing to pay $25/year or so for this feature.
The added benefit of this proposal is that the blogger gets access to news sources for a reasonable fee and the media get a new source of revenue.
Liza Sabater in her rejoinder to this post in Burundanga rejects the idea of paying for access to news sources. She believes that bloggers are like journalists, artists and others in society whose activities have special consitutional protections that place them in a different category of user than the general public. She writes:
…in the case of articles, i say that the only way to bring attention to this issue is to try it two ways: to either start REPRINTING WITH FULL ATTRIBUTION or to BUY THE ARTICLE and then post a link to it (and then think napster). either way, this issue will not go away because copyright laws are so skewed in favor of publishers. once the community of bloggers explodes (thanks in part to TYPEPAD and grock knows Google’s purchase of BLOGGER) all hell will break loose and companies like the New York Times will C&D anybody in sight –especially given that they already disseminate content to subscribers of Radio Userland.
i almost never refer to anything posted on the nyt but if i had to, i would reprint the whole article + add the link to their pay-per-view site. then i’d just sit back and wait for them to come get me.
I’m curious about the Radioland agreement with the New York Times. If anyone knows more about it could you send me a Trackback or comment? It sounds intriguing.
I would go Liza one better: if no agreement can be worked out between bloggers and the media why not create a Napster like system in which bloggers download articles to their hard drives while they are accessible. Then one could create a network of blogger news file sharers who could exchange articles from their hard drives in a network. I have no idea how to do this, but it doesn’t seem that much different from what some of the music file sharing services are doing right now. This service would have a stronger basis than music sharing because bloggers are trying to perform a public service in creating an online community to discuss and disseminate ideas that will benefit society.
I also note that Pops, who is a freelance journalist, has a different perspective on this and I would invite him to join the debate: let a thousand flowers bloom.
I don’t know if any of these ideas are viable in the form in which I’ve presented them. But I think as blogging grows that the need for easy, reliable access to news sources will become greater. This idea, in some form or another, will become real (at least I hope so). Is there some enterprising person out there who wants to make this happen?