Dispatches from the living amongst journalism's walking dead

Really, Plain Dealer?!?

First of all, it should be stated that I’m a big fan of The Cleveland Plain Dealer and Connie Schultz, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner and fellow Kent State alum. That said, they are completely out of their minds. Today, they give yet another gigantic middle finger to the entire Internet in a “story” that reads a bit more like a very smug blog post promoting their misguided efforts to stop the interwebs from doing what interwebs do.

Some backstory, if you don’t know it:

In what started as a plan to get a lawyer’s name in the news became an incredibly uninformed column by Schultz and eventually evolved into embarrassing sideshow that has a newspaper pulled into an effort trying to limit the First Amendment rights of bloggers and asking other sites not to give them web traffic. Oh, and it also calls aggregators, RSS readers and bloggers “parasites”. Nice work, guys (facepalm).

This “plan” to change U.S. copyright law, put forth by David and Daniel Marburger (brothers and a lawyer and economist, respectively), seeks to ban aggregators and bloggers from linking or paraphrasing news content within the first 24 hours of its creation.

TechDirt has an excellent analysis on all of the things that are wrong about this half-baked plan. The least of which is that it conveniently ignores significant traffic their own site gets from aggregators every day. I can speak with some knowledge on that fact – Cleveland’s website regularly features links to our stories that regularly show up as popular referrers in our traffic reports (and we love them for it).

As Jeff Sonderson also points out, the PD would be outraged if they themselves were held to this standard. We all would:

How would the Cleveland P-D like it if their new copyright law prohibited them for 24 hours from reporting plane and train crashes, celebrity deaths, political scandals, or anything else that Twitter, TMZ, Talking Points Memo or the Drudge Report had first?

Schultz, for her part, really misrepresents aggregation in the first place. She says these “parasitic” aggregators “reprint or rewrite newspaper stories, making the originator redundant and drawing ad revenue away from newspapers at rates the publishers can’t match.”

Actually, a true aggregator would have a headline from the originating site with a description of the story – usually auto-generated by the original site – and a link back to the original story. You know, PD, if you don’t want your stories to go out to aggregators, maybe you shouldn’t make RSS feeds available for them in the first place. Just a thought.

The Marburger report, at least, somewhat seems to understand the term, but still has the wrong bad guy. Their focus is not actually on true aggregators, but rather on bloggers and other competition in the market who don’t have a reporter on the scene for the original report, but tend to write an analysis or report based on what the original source published. This is commonplace – and I can state as a matter of fact that it is done by “professional” news outlets every day. Not to mention it is a pretty standard practice of the AP, which is featured on the PD’s news pages. Et tu, Brute? (That’s sarcasm, kids)

Depressing, isn’t it? While I agree that copyright law needs to be updated for the digital age, this isn’t what I had in mind.

In a roundabout way, this all continues to prove my point about newspapers pointing fingers at the wrong bad guys. After all – they too have links to Digg and other social sharing sites on their stories and blogs. Funny the way it is….

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3 Comments

  1. Dana

    I was going to write a rebuttal, but it seems that TechDirt has already revised their analysis after reading the actual report. Schultz’s columns didn’t really represent the facts of the report correctly. A lot of the issues you have posed here are addressed in the report itself, which is actually very pro-linking and makes a distinction between parasitic aggregators and pure aggregators (or “true” as you write here), and definitely does not propose a 24-hour ban be put into law.
    Yes there are still some issues with the report, but it’s Schultz that seems to be the real problem in how she portrayed it.

    • (I hope to write another post about this soon, but who knows when I’ll get time)

      Aside from Schultz getting their report wrong, it is flawed nonetheless. The real issue for me is two-fold:

      1. All content publishers need to be concerned about protecting their copyright. Calling bloggers “parasites” and antagonizing the very people who could help push the cause (like they did with that horrible story last week) doesn’t help the cause.

      2. Who are the Marburgers – or the courts – to determine who gets to use facts from the scene of a story? What if the PD’s reporters aren’t on the scene to get the facts – are they going to refrain from using those facts for 24 hours? Or does it just apply to those media outlets that aren’t as established as metro newspapers? It seems to be designed to rebuild the playing field to benefit large, mainstream news operations and nobody else.

  2. Dana

    It does seem there are some big questions that were missed.
    I loved TechDirt’s points about the sources we use. Without the time and work our sources give us, we wouldn’t have stories to write. Are we then parasites for using them and their information to make money for ourselves? Definitely never thought of it that way before.

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