Newspaper Freak-Out: Publishers and Journalists Need Remedial Training In New Media

It’s no secret that the newspaper business is in serious trouble. Circulations are plummeting and advertising revenue is in a free-fall. It’s widely agreed that the Internet is to blame, so you might think that newspapers would embrace new technology and work to establish strategic partnerships with companies that could help them deliver news in the manner that their readers prefer it. Instead many in the newspaper business seem to be waging an ongoing battle against all things new media. They’re responding in a way that media dinosaurs have traditionally responded to any new threat — with lawsuits and name calling.

A few weeks back I noted that would-be Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell doesn’t seem to understand the value of search engines. He’s not the only one. A number of European news services have been fighting Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft over links to European news websites. Apparently these publications prefer to limit their readership to the small number of individuals who might actually type the paper’s URL into their web browser. Since advertising revenue on the Internet is directly related to the number of visitors a website receives, suing Google probably isn’t the best business decision.

Earlier this week Google came to a partial agreement with Belgian publisher Copiepresse. According to news reports Google has agreed not to cache Copiepresse’s stories. Presumably the Copiepresse technical staff will also receive training in the use of no-cache meta tags. The result of the agreement is that Copiepresse’s stories won’t be featured on the high profile Google News page — although they will show up in search results. The news agency has indicated that the lawsuit still stands and will not be withdrawn until there is a complete agreement (translation: we will continue to sue Google until there is no chance that readers will ever find our website by using the most popular search engine on the planet).

I don’t mind the fact that Copiepresse wants to kill its own business so much as I object to the genuine hostility this publisher is demonstrating towards the Internet in general and its readers specifically. For example, Copiepresse and other publishers have been complaining about the act of deep-linking (linking to individual stories as opposed to the newspaper’s home page). Apparently we’re all supposed to come in through the home page and click around until we find the news we’re looking for. That sounds suspiciously like wrestling with the Sunday LA Times while trying to find Part III of the Calendar section. That’s just not the way things work on the Internet and it’s not the way readers want to find their news. The irony here is that, in the unlikely event that deep-linking would ever be banned, newspapers would have to make serious improvements to their onsite search engines. Many publishers would likely end up buying Google search appliances, all because they’re afraid Google might make a buck by linking to the latest news.

If the revolt of newspaper publishers against the Internet isn’t bad enough, now journalists are jumping into the battle. This weekend columnist David Bullard detonated a small-scale nuclear device in the blogosphere with a column that, among other things, claimed that bloggers “are the sort of wackos who gun down their fellow students at university”. Bullard goes on to fantasize about creating a website called where he can publish the names and addresses of anonymous bloggers. Apparently his motto is “if you can’t beat ’em, stalk ’em”. Fortunately, the domain name appears to be safely in the hands of sympathetic bloggers and there will be no print revenge this time.

While it’s likely that Bullard’s column was intended partially in jest, the underlying vitriol towards new media is consistent with the actions of publishers suing search engines and fighting the battle against deep-linking. This is an industry in a state of denial over how rapidly and completely their world is changing. They act as if, some day, the Internet and bloggers will simply go away and we’ll return to the good old days newsprint and the occasional special afternoon edition.

Those days are over and the Internet isn’t going away. But someday soon newspapers just might.

3 Responses to “Newspaper Freak-Out: Publishers and Journalists Need Remedial Training In New Media”

  1. Sean DALY says:

    Copiepresse is not a publisher, it’s a newspaper association. The webmasters of its publishers are not any more incompetent than, say, those of the New York Times; they just want Copiepresse titles to get the same deals the NYT, AP, and AFP got (all three through litigation or threat of litigation). There is evidence online advertising revenue remains marginal for most newspapers compared to archive content fees or subscription charges. What Copiepresse wants stopped is Google’s bypassing of time-limited archive content, something they do for the NYT but don’t want to do for others. They also want European copyright law respected; Google may yet have to respect the Brussels CFI decision. Of course, it’s an open discussion as to whether the EUCD and country-specific copyright jurisprudence should be changed…

    Sean DALY.

  2. Kirk says:

    The Copiepresse publishers can stop Google from indexing their archived content any time they care to. They can also figure out how to effectively monetize web content the way every other web publisher has.

    As you’ve noted, effective online revenue models involve a mix of ad supported pages, subscriptions, and pay per use. Google and the other search engines aren’t preventing any newspaper from implementing whatever business model they need to in order to make money online.

  3. Kassia says:

    It’s great that Copiepresse wants to limit access to time-restricted content, but it does make one wonder what the association plans to do with this content. Presumably figure out another way to monetize it. Of course, the content is only valuable in the future if it’s findable, and, frankly, I haven’t seen evidence that newspaper web folks are too competent when it comes to search. It’s also questionable that this content has real future value at all.

    I have no illusions about Google. The company exists to make money. But I can clearly see that Google isn’t creating original content. It pushes people to other websites just as fast as it can (fast being a factor of the efficacy of the search string entered by the customer). Newspapers should be doing everything in their power to make sure that their content is searchable (not just via Google, but via all search engines). Google is increasingly the place where people go first — because it has proven to be the place where people find what they’re looking for.