Napsterized News

Two news industry executives from E.W. Scripps have proposed the creation of “a digital cooperative, a Napsterized news service” to compete with the Associated Press. Their article, published in Online Journalism Review, is more a trial balloon than a fully-fledged proposal but it’s certain to cause a stir. Thanks to Andi Silver (of AndiLinks) who sent me the OJR piece after having read my three-intallment blog entry, Food for Thought, in which I called for the creation of media cooperative. In contrast to my Joe Blogger dreams, however, Scripps executives Bob Benz and Mike Phillips are guys with the juice and the backing to make something happen. Scripps is also a chain that traces its history to the days when daily newspapers were the upstart medium. Nearly a century ago Scripps helped launch United Press International to compete with the AP. So there’s a deep back story to their OJR piece that will be known to their fellow news industry execs. Of more importance to Mini Media types, however, is how Benz and Phillips see the world: “From blogs to open-source journalism to free newspapers, a wave of unpaid information is sweeping paid information off the media beach,” they write. “As content loses value, expert editing and customer-driven bundling are becoming the tools for building audience. And audience — not content — is the news industry’s value proposition.” The last point is profound. In the media evolution occurring now, those who command attention will rule. Incumbent media may seem like dinosaurs today. In time, however, I think they will adjust their cost structure, reduce in-house staff and expense, and become conduits for user-generated content. I say this as one who works in media, likes what he does, and appreciates the salary and the benefits. Yet I begin to appreciate how buggy whip makers must’ve felt. I scanned the OJR piece for clues as to how the Scripps guys would pay for all the groovy content that folks would bring to their media pot-luck. “Sharing,” they suggest, “would be governed by a karmic balance. The more you make available to the network, the more you can take out. An organization with a karmic deficit would have to true up by paying a surcharge.” Okay. So when it comes time to pay my mortgage I just tell Citibank to debit my karmic balance? Of course not! Because the Scripps plan wasn’t meant to address the needs of content creators like me. Instead it proposes a federation of feudal lords. That’s not meant to disparage the idea, because it might work and it might be an important step toward where ever media are migrating, just as the Magna Carta was a way station on the road to representative government. But just as that agreement was a ways away from where we are today, the Scripps idea is a ways away from where media needs to go — and that is to a place where content, and its creators, have worth and value. Otherwise, the people who make media will hold out their bowls like so many Oliver Twists and say to the distributors with cracking voices, “Please, sir, I want some more.”

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media