Thursday, March 12, 2009

News aggregators be wary: as newspaper close, so too does free content.

In recent days, just as the Rocky Mountain News announced it's closure, a few newspapers around the country announced a fundamental change in business: charging for online content.
On Feb. 26, Thomas Rutledge, chief operating officer of Cablevision, the corporate owner of Long Island's Newsday, announced that the firm would "end distribution of free web content," according to a Cablevision conference call transcript.
Likewise, on Feb. 27, according to a Wall Street Journal report the newspaper publisher Hearst announced plans to start charging for some of it's content. Hearst owns 16 daily newspapers, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Houston Chronicle, and the Albany Times Union.
Those events may be just the latest signs of an industry realizing that it must—MUST—stop giving away information for free.
A move away from free content has also been highlighted recently by a number lawsuits accusing news organizations of copyright infringement, as highlighted in a March 2 New York Times article called "Copyright Challenge for Sites That Excerpt."
According to the article, late last year in which Gatehouse Media, which owns 92 daily newspapers, accused The Boston Globe, owned by The New York Times, of copying headlines and lead sentences from Gatehouse newspapers.
Another such case involves The Associated Press, which accused All Headline News, an online news distributor, of copying A.P. stories.
Such legal cases are a byproduct of the state of online news, where free content and free publishing has sparked a boom of news aggregators—the websites, blogs, and quasi-news sites like The Huffington Post and the Drudge Report who specialize in distributing other's news stories. More and more, even traditional news organizations like Globe and the Times are engaged in aggregating.
When done legally, aggregating—also called scraping—is the process of posting a link to a story on another website, and perhaps a small excerpt from the story, according to the March 2 Times article.
In the past, many news organizations didn't fight aggregators because they drove traffic to the news organization's website. According to the Times article, however, media executives are growing concerned that aggregators are stealing too many potential readers, and profiting in the process.
According to the Times as a result, "some publishers are second-guessing their liberal attitude toward free content."
Those forces, as well as declining print revenue, said the Times, is leading major publishers like Heart and Cablevision and others to consider charging for content.
There might be two possible outcomes to the experiment to sell online news content. It could succeed, and news would no longer be free. Or it could fail, and with it so too might the news organization itself.
Neither of those scenarios are good news for aggregators—both mean that free information in the coming years may be much more difficult to come by.
It could be an example of the parasite killing the host.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good Start to the Day

The water this morning around mile marker 28 of A1A in the Florida Keys was about how you would picture it in a dream: a mix of turquoise and green water cut by deep channels of dark blue. And the sky above was blue, but with but a few light clouds for contrast. I was there this morning at about 10 a.m., a little hyped by two cups of coffee, skimming happily over the flat water at 30 knots in a 20-foot skiff with a grin and the no particular destination because it's always the journey that's the best part.
I was out by myself and had left early because today was my last day on this trip to the keys and I wanted to squeeze in just a little more boat time. I came down from Washington, D.C. just four days earlier on a Friday night flight that got in late, after which I drove the hundred and fifty or so miles to Little Torch Key, 28 miles north of the end of the road.
And for the next few days—Saturday, Sunday, and Monday—I engaged in the activity that simply makes me happier than anything else on this earth: boating on salt water. I love it because the ocean is part of me and I was brought up on it and when I am near the water—particularly when I am upon it—I just feel better and the world seems like a lot more of a suitable place. Salt water is mysterious and comforting and always moving but always there waiting to welcome me back. And I always come.
And as I skimmed across the shallows this morning, the little boat on plane, the outboard engine trimmed nicely and humming, I thought how I do love this activity, and how I always will love it, and how if I had to describe myself to someone, I would start right here.