Newspapers Want To Have It Both Ways On The Web

With newspapers across the country going deeper in the hole by the day and some of them, happily, finally going out of business, perhaps it’s understandable that they’re increasingly lashing out at the new media sources that have been chipping away at their support.

However, when the old media makes bad arguments designed to encourage intervention from Congress or courts in their favor, I think they need to be countered. That brings me to Maureen Dowd’s latest column,

Google is in a battle royal over whether it has the right to profit so profligately from newspaper content at a time when journalism is in such jeopardy.

Robert Thomson, the top editor of The Wall Street Journal, denounced Web sites like Google as “tapeworms.” His boss, Rupert Murdoch, said that big newspapers do not have to let Google “steal our copyrights.” The A.P. has threatened to take legal action against Google and others that use the work of news organizations without obtaining permission and sharing a “fair” portion of revenue. But what’s fair will be hard to prove.

…Why can’t Google, which likes to see itself as a “Don’t Be Evil” benevolent force in society, just write us a big check for using our stories, so we can keep checks and balances alive and continue to provide the search engine with our stories? After all, Schmidt acknowledges that a lot of what’s on the Internet is “a sewer.” He told me people don’t come to Google for “crap,” but for what’s “useful.”

He declines to pony up money, noting that newspapers could opt out of giving their content to Google free and adding, “We actually like making our own money for obviously good capitalist reasons.”

First of all, newspapers want to have it both ways. They want to complain because blogs and search engines are posting excerpts of their work, but they also want the traffic those links generate. If they didn’t, they could block the search engine spiders from crawling their websites and put a registration wall in place and that would incentivize bloggers not to link them. After all, most bloggers aren’t going to link back to a website their readers aren’t able to view sans registration.

It’s also worth noting that what these newspapers and the Associated Press are complaining about is the exact same sort of fair use that they themselves use whenever it suits them. The mainstream media regularly quotes excerpts of columns, releases, and speeches — so, why shouldn’t that cut both ways?

Last but not least, let me note that newspapers are a “checks and balance” and they do produce “stories,” but both “checks and balances” and “stories” were around before newspapers and if every paper in the country disappeared tomorrow (which isn’t going to happen), they wouldn’t go away. As long as there’s a market for news — and there is going to be a market for news — it will be provided. However, the news providers of the future will probably learn to do a lot more with smaller staffs and budgets. They’ll also probably rely more on “amateurs,” shared reporting on national and international stories, and gossipy content that most papers think is beneath them.

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