Dinosaurs That Don’t Evolve, Die

Part of the rationalization that the stinker in chief at the Las Vegas Review-Journal uses for the Righthaven lawsuits is that newspapers are being driven out of business by bloggers infringing copyrighted newspaper articles.  While I agree that infringement is wrong (although usually unintentional), it is not particularly plausible that this is the source of the problems that newspapers are having, for a number of reasons:

1. It is true that if you copy too much text from a newspaper, it may discourage some readers from clicking through to read the article.  On the other hand, how many readers click through to read the article, if it was copied in full, anyway?  I know that I often find myself clicking through, even when a blogger has copied a substantial amount of the article–to see if they have quoted the article out of context.

2. Traffic that bloggers get because of an alleged copyright infringement are a tiny fraction of the hits that a newspaper receives as a result of Google searches, links from Drudge Report, or even clickthroughs caused by bloggers linking to an article on the newspaper’s website.  The problem that newspapers are having isn’t because of bloggers, but the collapse of traditional dead trees publishing.  Bloggers linking to newspapers are almost certainly a net gain for newspapers–unless, of course, you decide to turn an innocent, one-time mistake (as my co-blogger on The Armed Citizen made) into a $75,000 suit.  At that point, the negative publicity and aggressive delinking from such newspapers is almost certainly going to turn such a lawsuit campaign into a net loss.

Yes, a newspaper deserves to get all the ad volume it would enjoy if everyone clicked through, instead of reading the article elsewhere–but there are polite, sensible ways to solve the problem, and there are impolite, irrational ways to do so.  My guess is that the editor of the Review-Journal wouldn’t trim his fingernails with a chainsaw, or stop his car by slamming it into brick wall.  There are less drastic solutions–which nearly all newspaper organizations use, such as an email or letter demanding that you take down an infringement.  (At least, I’ve read that this is the case; I’ve never had a news organization make such a request.)

In nearly all cases, bloggers have made an innocent mistake, through ignorance of the law (which is very easy, since fair use law is extraordinarily vague), or excess enthusiasm for a particularly well-written article.  A blogger who ignores a request, or who keeps infringing again and again–I can see that a lawsuit might make sense there.  But to go directly from one article infringing to a $75,000 lawsuit is just crazy.

Anyway, all that to point to this article at Nieman Journalism Lab, which points to an innovative solution to the dinosaur news media problem:

It is a head-turner, which seems to be, at first, an only-in-Utah story. The Deseret Morning News, KSL TV, and KSL Radio, all owned by one company, the Deseret Management Co., a for-profit arm of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, are combining operations.

Instead of each organization sending a reporter to the statehouse to cover an event, one reporter covers it.  The difference between radio, television, and newspaper is evaporating in the digital age.  The Review-Journal is trying to use the tyrannosaurus rex approach of ferocity to stave off the inevitable end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  (Unlike the movie Jurassic Park–where the T. rex at least has the good taste to eat the lawyer.)

8 thoughts on “Dinosaurs That Don’t Evolve, Die”

  1. Why do bloggers like you never cite any of the booming traffic statistics newspaper websites are getting these days? In most every city and town, newspaper sites are far outperforming all local competitors in eyeballs.
    Yet all you ever can do is point to increasingly irrelevant print circulation numbers – and even in this new world most daily newspaper paid circulation numbers still outpace a typical blogger’s web traffic by a few times over.
    So, it seems to me that newspapers are actually getting AHEAD of the game again. They increasingly are having the best of both worlds – they have a growing revenue stream from a leading market website AND they have a revenue maker in print. Digital has only one.
    Most papers got in big trouble because their owners did dumb things like buy baseball teams or build wildly overpriced real estate. They got into too much debt.
    True, the loss of classifieds was and is still huge. But increasingly, newspapers are starting to make up some of that lost back end classified money from their increasingly well performing websites.

  2. Joe, if those clicks were actually great in number, traditional newspapers would not be firing personnel left and right to reduce costs.
    Dead Tree Papers are still not adapting to the new way of doing things. Some just can’t due to the investment they have in real estate, paper and machinery. Till a couple a years ago, their biggest money security was the actual location but with the real estate collapse, that is no longer a plus.
    And let us not forget that most of their articles are not news but opinion pieces disguised and news reporting which people can’t swallow so they stop buying the hard copy and only glance online for an occasional update.

  3. Miguel
    Most papers were overstaffed to begin with, which explains many of the cuts. And while everyone loves to say “newspapers are laying people off, that means they’re dying”, can you name me a business that hadn’t laid people off the last few years?
    The economy, stupid, has played a major part in newspaper cutbacks. And you say newspapers don’t get a big enough audience online – well the stats don’t back you up. Nytimes.com for instance gets about 25 million page views a day.

  4. Clayton
    Trust me, the blogger business would be in a hell of a lot more trouble if newspapers went away than any other scenario. No more work to piggyback on or outright steal. They might even have to go out and get a real job.

  5. “No more work to piggyback on or outright steal. They might even have to go out and get a real job.”

    Do you know any bloggers that actually make any real money at it? I make enough to cover my ISP and hosting fees. All of us have real jobs.

  6. Joe, most bloggers already have real jobs! And, to the extent that they “piggyback” or even “outright steal” material from newspapers, they are also providing free advertising to those newspapers.

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