Thursday, November 16, 2006

Number 1 lesson for newspapers: you can’t control the news

Newspapers are trying their best to keep up with the changes in the online world; they have gone to lengths to make their offerings user-friendly, be more in tune with the online crowd which also wants to have a say in the news process. Many newspapers, like The Guardian have embraced the net in a big, encouraging user participation and creating serious ombudsmen. The usage of video, commentary, blogs, podcasts, ratings and other ‘web 2.0’ tools is on the up. Sensible people in the business know that suing Google News won't do any good.

However, there are some who won’t let go. Jeff Jarvis writes about a recent San Francisco Chronicle article by a lawyer/journalist who suggests newspapers ‘time delay’ their news so that the online readership has no other option than to pay and read the news. This goes straight in Top 5 of my most insane idea of 2006.

The lawyer/journalist Peter Scheer proposes:
Here’s my proposal: Newspapers and wire services need to figure out a way, without running afoul of antitrust laws, to agree to embargo their news content from the free Internet for a brief period — say, 24 hours — after it is made available to paying customers. The point is not to remove content from the Internet, but to delay its free release in that venue.

A temporary embargo, by depriving the Internet of free, trustworthy news in real-time, would, I believe, quickly establish the true value of that information. Imagine the major Web portals — Yahoo, Google, AOL and MSN — with nothing to offer in the category of news except out of date articles from “mainstream” media and blogosphere musings on yesterday’s news.

Jeff has the right answer to such suggestions. Those hoary days of editorial control are long gone. He points out that information wants to be free in today’s information age. If users can’t find the news on the big news sites, they will shift elsewhere. Moreover, not all news is worth paying for. Most national and international news is a commodity nowadays. People pay for and because of the analysis and excellent commentary.

Peter Scheer's advice is aimed at killing the newspaper, not reviving it.


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