Friday, November 02, 2007

Can you spell hubris?

Interesting article at E&P on the speech by Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press. As usual, E&P doesn't provide a link to his speech. They excerpt from it. These are some points he made and how they saw his message.

- Young people the world over are hungry for news. They just don’t prefer our traditional platforms and packaging.

- The first thing that has to go is the attitude. Our institutional arrogance has done more to harm us than any portal ... [That's exactly how E&P staff edited the sentence.]

- Our focus must be on becoming the very best at filling people’s 24-hour news needs. That’s a huge shift from the we-know-best, gatekeeper thinking.

Those are the points that caught my eye because they are related to that ominous note about control.
We have the power to control how our content flows on the Web. We must use that power if we’re to continue to be financially secure and independent enough to speak truth to power.
(I wasn't the only one to make note of it either. Rich Ord has an article in that you don't want to miss.)

For me, however, the first thing that struck is that there's a commonality in these and it is continued hubris. The AP doesn't want people linking to their stories and they think that as robbing content. Is information copyrightable? I don't think so. Readers don't think so. It's the same old arrogance and desire to be gatekeepers. It isn't about income. If the newspaper industry and the AP wanted more income they would have dropped the attitude and long-established, no longer even deniable, bias a long time ago. A viewpoint sells. That's why blogs are beating their pants off. That's why readers will no longer pay for newspaper content.

His speech is online.

The points from it, I would have made are the
"We who rule content must start making decisions, the ones that deliver journalism for another generation of readers and viewers." And, "Enforcement, too, must be a part. What we do comes at great cost and sacrifice, even death. We believe content should have wide distribution. We intend to be compensated for it."
Rule content? What happened to dropping the hubris and the gatekeeper thinking?
"The brains are the people who can add real value whether through perspective, deeper reporting or great writing. In short, we need talent, a lot of it and some of it very different."
Odd, most online readers feel that it is the one thing missing from traditional newspapers. - independence of thought and viewpoint. Newspapers don't hire reporters for their critical thinking skills or their enthusiasm for learning. They hire them because those are the qualities they lack. It makes for the conformity dictated by editors who hire, who decide what to write, when to write and, lastly, what gets published and even the headline that banners the story.

When was the last time you knew the name of an AP reporter and followed his or her writing because it was good or because you admired their writing? They're faceless scribes reworking the stories from member papers. When you work for small men, you have to be smaller.

Clinging to the old model, Curley had this to say about editors.
Great editors connect with readers and viewers. They build -- or to use the vernacular -- aggregate audiences, big or niche, with value, social currency and, ultimately, impact on the political process or social norms.
When was the last time you even knew the name of a single editor? There are no great editors in American newspapers. The current ones who have controlled content have driven papers into near-bankruptcy because readers don't want to share attitudes. They want to make up their own minds. They want reporters to be able to do the same in order to provide facts and information they can use. In electing their politicans, in funding their schools, in determining their quality of life.

People have turned away from the newspaper industry primarily because that is an industry that wants to impact social norms. Worse,they want to dictate social norms.

That's a far cry from providing content. It's control.

And make no mistake, it's not limited to controlling content.
Lest you think we’re going off the deep end and giving it all away for free, we’re coupling those initiatives with strong new efforts to protect news web sites from unauthorized scraping through tighter site protocols and content tagging. We also hope to strike some attractive new distribution deals with valuable advertising support.
Two tenets guide us: the need to adapt our old systems and practices, especially our mindsets, in order to compete, and the need to get control over our content, so that we can take a seat at the table to set the terms for the new distribution that the search engines and Web 2.0 channels offer.
To do so, the silly man thinks the AP controls the Internet.
You can bet that if they saw a Google, a Yahoo or a Facebook, they would have figured out what to do about them. You can bet that if they found a newshound like our friend Madi Reddy in India, collecting news and tidbits to share with friends, they would have found a way to feed his obsession.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The hubris of thinking that information is a commodity to be controlled by a monopoly would be laughable if it wasn't so destructive to a democracy.

For those of us who genuinely love newspapers and the opportunity that a newspaper has to encourage reading and learning, excite wonder at exploration and the quiet thrill of the discovery of knowledge, aren't surprised at this speech. The faceless, little man who gave it epitomizes the industry thats a business, not an art. The sooner they go bankrupt, the better.

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