How The NY Times Hides Behind Copyright Law To Hoard Information And Weaken Its Journalism
from the too-bad dept
So why is it that so many major news sources don't post source documents?
Felix Salmon has a long and interesting post about his discussion with the NY Times on this particular topic. Two really interesting points come out of this, neither of which is good:
- Many (though, certainly not all) old school journalists come from an era in which they want to hoard the information, and dribble it out, because that's how journalism used to be. The power was in those who held the information, and the journalist's role was to just give you what s/he felt you needed, rather than giving you the full download to analyze yourself.
- The NY Times and others then uses copyright law as a crutch to explain why they don't provide source material. They hide behind copyright law, claiming that it opens up too much liability to post certain documents that may be covered by copyright.
The one big thing I learned from talking to Samson is that when NYT journalists talk about copyright constraints preventing them from putting documents online, they're not particularly upset about that. In fact, they might secretly be quite happy that there's no question of posting the document they spent so much effort obtaining. Journalists are human, after all, and can be quite jealous and competitive: they don't want to simply give the story, on a plate, to their competitors, and will happily sit on documents rather than publishing them if they're given half a chance to do so. Samson said he couldn't think of a single instance where a journalist was begging him to be able to publish something and he said no, for copyright reasons.This is a rather antiquated view of the information economy these days. It's a view built on the idea that hoarding information is better than sharing it. In our own experience, that seems to create less valuable results, and for a publication like the NY Times, it seems like a huge waste. No one is saying that giving away the source material takes away from the actual reporting or commentary that happens on top of that. In fact, most people will still find that to be the most valuable part. But sharing the actual source material is an important part of the package.
After all, it's easy for the NYT to post copyrighted documents if it's so inclined -- it just needs to send them to any one of dozens of organizations who will happily put them online, and then link or embed the document into the story. Or the journalist can just ask their source to go ahead and post the document online, in some anonymous place where it can be linked to or embedded. But that never seems to happen. And even when there's no copyright at all, as in the case of the Hank Paulson ethics waiver, the NYT went on the record as saying that the reporters "would probably be uncomfortable simply handing over documents" even to one of their colleagues, let alone to the world in general. After all, said Tim O'Brien, an editor there, "they had spent a lot of time and energy to find, analyze, and report on" that document.
The other chilling part of Salmon's conversation with Samson was one of his rationale's for hiding behind copyright:
"We want our readers to respect intellectual property," says Samson. "Intellectual property is arguably the biggest asset of this company. We value others' IP rights, and we want their IP rights to be respected."No, your IP is not your biggest asset. The readers and the community you've built up is -- and if you treat them badly by hoarding information, they might start to go elsewhere. Hiding behind copyright law to provide less valuable reporting is a cheap cop out, that doesn't befit a news organization of the NY Times' stature.