Monday, May 18, 2009

A "plan" for the future

Big changes are needed in order to save journalism from the ravages of the internet.

That's the message presented by Bruce W. Sanford and Bruce D. Brown, in this piece for the Washington Post. The pair have come up with five ways to save newspapers.

Some of their suggestions are well-intentioned, like a call to strengthen copyright law to prevent abuse from digital outlets. Unfortunately their focus is on search engines - and rather than accept the loss of placement that would result from being delisted by Google and others, they argue that media owners shouldn't have to lose their Web visibility, and search engines should instead pay them for the privilege of having media products in their search results, whether Google likes it or not.

Publishers should not have to choose between protecting their copyrights and shunning the search-engine databases that map the Internet. Journalism therefore needs a bright line imposed by statute: that the taking of entire Web pages by search engines, which is what powers their search functions, is not fair use but infringement.

This is obviously a losing proposition.

Another argument is to reduce business taxes on media companies and give tax incentives to buying advertising - but not, they note, with companies like Craiglist.

Congress could provide incentives for placing ads with content creators (not with Craigslist) and allowances for immediate write-offs (rather than capitalization) for all expenses related to news production.

While reducing taxes will certainly help media companies, it doesn't address why media outlets deserve a tax break in the first place? If the goal is to promote the public good, why not support proposed legislation like the Newspaper Revitalization Act, as recommended by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, and allow a way for media outlets to qualify for nonprofit status?

They answer that question not once, but twice. That's how many times they suggest relaxing the rules for media ownership and promoting antitrust exemptions for media conglomerates.

Whether you like the idea or not, it's worth noting that Baker Hostetler is no stranger to media ownership and antitrust law. The firm has represented most of the national media chains, including MediaNews, for a variety of issues and litigation.

Antitrust exemptions and increased consolidation may be the key to saving our industry, but it would be heartening to hear someone without a vested interest say it, instead of another expensive Washington lawyer.


Anonymous said...

Strengthening copyright laws will make the industry look like the RIAA.

Len Cutler said...

Strengthening copyright laws will make the industry look like the RIAA.

I don't think that's necessarily true. A great deal of their reputation is based upon how the RIAA attempted to enforce the law. When they targeted Napster, the response was pretty mild. The PR debacle started when they decided to go after soccer moms and unemployed college students.

The newspaper industry is in a vastly different situation. A single article or picture doesn't represent a significant amount of income, the way it does in the music industry. Rather, newspaper content is about access - someone who "steals" one article is a pest, someone who steals access to the everyday content is a threat.

At least, that's the way it should be. If the Associated Press decides to target lone bloggers and people building personal Web sites, then you could be right.

But there's another question in this: Do content producers have the right to control what happens to their work? If the answer is no, why not?

Anonymous said...

Do content producers have the right to control what happens to their work? If the answer is no, why not?If it stifles innovation to protect an antequated business model, then I would have to say no.

San Diego Farmgirl said...

Seriously? This is the best 'plan' my industry can come up with at the precipice of its survival?

When is print media going to accept that their product is NEWS, not newspapers? My trade pub is going under because the owners are clinging to a weekly print edition the readers don't want, as evidenced by terrible ad sales this year, and letters from readers saying 'we don't need a weekly print edition'. However, our daily email update ad sales were sold out for the entire year by March. I just don't understand why instead of utilizing the internet to better distribute the product, print media is fighting it so much.

Wake up, folks! PRINT. IS. OVER.

Personally, I don't like it. I prefer paper to reading something on a screen myself. I'm no Gen Yer, my cell phone only makes phone calls. But things change with time, its inevitable. Evolve or die, that's how it's always been on this planet, and that's how it will always be.

PS: Great blog! Looks like somebody got the internet memo!