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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press.

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June 24, 2008 5:03 PM

Enough already!

Posted by Ryan Blethen

Tired are they who create content of making others money. The folks at news-outlets have long watched their work get scooped up by companies like Google, who turn around and package it with adverting.

Last week a news-outlet did something about it. The Associated Press put the screws to bloggers using AP stories. Brier Dudley had a good column on the AP vs. bloggers story in Monday's newspaper. He followed up the column with a post on his blog looking at what others in the industry are doing about content being used by others for a monetary gain.

I am not so concerned about bloggers linking to stories or using an entire story in a post. Unless the blog has a massive audience, say like the Huffington Post, the damage is next to nothing. I am more concerned about the likes of Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft battle for ad dollars.

While advertising is a form of content it works best on the Web being paired with news stories that reach a targeted audience. Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, especially Google, dominate this search based advertising market. A market built on the strength of stories created at great expense to publishers, who receive no monetary compensation for their work or the use of their work.

So what is a newspaper or a news co-op like the AP to do? Newspapers could start charging for their content. Some newspapers do this. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette does, and is one of America's healthiest newspapers. The argument against charging is that the content is walled off from the Internet outside of those who are willing to pay. Maybe for a regional newspaper like the Democrat-Gazette that is not such a bad idea. Does it matter if the Little Rock paper's stories do not get spread virally through the Internet? The same argument could be made for The Seattle Times and every other non-national newspaper.

If regional newspapers do charge for content how does that effect readership? Does it fall off in the newspaper's market? Does it make the eventual shift to a large online presence more difficult?

So many questions and no concrete answers. The pressure mounts as dollars continue to disappear and the questions are not answered. It will be interesting to see if the AP's push to protect its content and make a few more bucks pays off. Something has to give. Newspapers can only watch their work be stolen for so long.

One idea I found a bit farfetched was on Wired's Epicenter blog. The writer suggested that the AP should buy out the newspapers that make up its membership and partner with Yahoo and Google.

How would that work if newspapers are not part of the equation? AP has writers in most major U.S. cities and covers all the topics covered in newspapers. Problem is the AP heavily relies on its member newspapers to feed it stories, which it in turn sends out on the wire. If newspapers were bought out of the AP they would surely stop sending their stories to the wire.

The writer did not elaborate on how the AP would fill this content void. Would the search engines pay for the AP to create newsrooms around the country? That would be very expensive.

A better way would be for the AP to sign a deal with the search engines that kicked back some money to the newsrooms that create the content.

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