LG: In all seriousness, it’s not surprising that traditional media companies that put so much effort and so many resources into producing really valuable news coverage are chagrined when they see that appearing and generating ad revenue at someone else’s media outfit, whether that’s The Huffington Post or even just a small blog. But at the same time, one of the things that we wanted to point out is that aggregation has always been around in some form or another. It’s something that every news provider does to some extent, even The New York Times. News companies exist in a pretty complex ecosystem, they’re always picking up cues from one another, and it’s certainly part of the landscape now, and they have to contend with it to some extent. Even when they want to build their own audiences, intelligent and savvy news providers are going to have to use aggregation intelligently to bring readers and viewers to their own sites—even as, of course, they police the most egregious examples of aggregation, where they see themselves losing revenue.
BG: There are certainly examples out there of websites that are just outright stealing content, and we feel that the full brunt of the law ought to be brought forth on those people. But one of the examples we used in the report was a story that New York magazine broke on their website—it was a wonderful little piece by Gabe Sherman, who’s a great media reporter. He looked at how Roger Ailes had told Sarah Palin not to do her famous “blood libel” video after the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords. And it was just a great scoop, it was only about five hundred words. He spent a couple days doing the reporting on that, another day on the editing and vetting, they published it one night, and it got a lot of buzz. The next day, The Huffington Post picked up a very short version of that, and if you look at the number of comments, New York magazine got about a hundred and thirty comments, and Huffington Post got over two thousand.
So you could say, “Wow, that’s really unfair.” But actually, when you look more deeply into it, New York magazine was fine with Huffington Post picking it up, because they got a ton more traffic that they never would’ve gotten otherwise. It was also linked to by Andrew Sullivan, by HotAir.com. So the simple fact is, media companies are not going to be able to put this toothpaste back into the old tube here. The way copyright laws are written, other news companies can and will aggregate. So the idea is to kind of figure out how to make the most out of it.
So looking broadly now, what do you hope will come out of this report? Who would you like to read it? What changes would you like them to take away from it?
BG: Well, we wrote it, in a way, for really several different audiences. One is journalists. I think a lot of journalists are kind of scratching their heads and looking at things that just don’t seem to make much sense. Why does The New York Times website, which gets close to thirty million unique users, generate so much less revenue than the print newspaper, which has nine hundred thousand weekday subscribers? It just doesn’t make sense. And so we wanted to kind of explain some things in ways that we hope that journalists who may not read Romenesko every two minutes of their life could understand. We also wanted to kind of bring in some basic business principles of how fundamentally the digital platform has disrupted the economics that supported journalism for so long. That’s why our first chapter cites about fifteen or sixteen principles that we thought people ought to understand.
And what we hope is that people will read it, both on the journalism side and on the business side, and get a better sense of where the other side is coming from, but also adopt a more innovative and aggressive attitude towards finding solutions in the commercial market. Because we don’t think that the philanthropic or government support is ever going to be able to support journalism in the way that we are used to—there’s going to have to be a commercial market for it. And anything we can do to help contribute to that understanding, we think is helpful.