Reporter Annoyed To Discover He Doesn't Own Facts; Suggests 'Global Paywall' For Reporters Like Himself

from the good-luck-with-that dept

Every so often we see this kind of thing: a reporter (who may very well do amazingly good work) gets upset to realize that other news sites and aggregators pick up on some of his stories and write about them — potentially even getting more attention than the original. In this case, it’s reporter Matthew Taub, who is annoyed that other sites got the glory for his investigative reporting on… on a guy dressing up as a clown and running around a Brooklyn cemetary:

A story I did, like this, gets repackaged, like this (with a reference to the original reporting deep in the second page), and finally reaches you, like this:

Hey, we’ve all been there. I’ve had plenty of stories that I’ve written get rewritten and repurposed by other, much bigger sites and then watched those sites get all the traffic. It happens. Of course, sometimes it’s happened the other way as well, in which we get traffic that we probably don’t deserve after we write about a story that originated elsewhere, but for reasons unknown, the world bestowed the traffic to our story first.

Taub takes the silly line that, because of things like this, “original reporting” (as he defines it) “will cease to exist in about five to ten years.” Of course, we’ve been hearing this refrain for longer than five to ten years and it never really changes. And it’s silly and somewhat meaningless. First of all, reporters don’t own facts. Period. It’s something that’s kind of important to learn if you’re going to report on stuff. Hell, for the cemetary clown story, is Taub paying the clown? Of course not, but the story really originates with that guy, not Taub, right?

Furthermore, the idea that original reporting will go away is just silly. In fact, if you look at sites that often start out doing the kind of aggregating and rewriting that Taub complains about, many of them also do plenty of original reporting, and that role keeps growing over time as they realize how important that can be. Just look at the prototypical example of a site that got big by “aggregating” information from elsewhere: BuzzFeed. Yet these days, it has a large and growing “original reporting” staff that often does amazing work. Many people don’t realize it yet because they’re still focused on the other junk the site produces, but the idea that original reporting goes away is just silly.

But Taub thinks the answer is a “global paywall” where all “real” publications can all team up:

Solution: A Global Pay Wall Across All Sites.

All cooperating media outlets agree to the same pay wall appearing on their sites, with revenue divided behind the scenes.

No fear of a loss of eyeballs to competitors: everyone is behind the pay wall.

Except, no. Not everyone is behind the paywall, because any even halfway entrepreneurial journalist will look at Taub’s global paywall and leap for joy over the fact that Taub just cleared the field for competition by taking all those papers out of the open internet. And it’s not like this idea hasn’t been discussed before.

Taub compares his solution to Spotify and iTunes — but, again, the industry tried to set up an “iTunes for news” five years ago and it hasn’t worked out particularly well. It’s just been a bunch of paywalls that haven’t really helped. Music and news are very different products. Not realizing the difference in how they’re consumed (and what the substitutes are) dooms this particular analogy.

But the real problem here is that Taub is overvaluing the reporter and undervaluing the audience. We’ve tried to make this point for years, but the whole reason that newspaper businesses were viable in the first place was that they brought together a community of attention, and then were able to sell advertisements against that. That “community” was often local. But the problem today is that there are so many competing communities, made possible by the internet, that newspapers no longer have that kind of monopolistic control on attention.

But the problem with a paywall is that it’s actually a barrier to building a community. It’s limiting the community and providing less value to the community for more money. Consumers of news today want to be able to share it with others and discuss it. And a paywall gets in the way of that. Thus, you’re making the news significantly less valuable, yet expecting people to pay more for it and devaluing the community value that the publication itself needs. Economically, it’s stupid.

Here’s a better idea: if other sites are getting all the traffic for your stories, maybe look at why the traffic is going to them and see what you can do better to get that traffic directly. There’s a reason people went to those other sites rather than the original, and maybe instead of just blaming the evils of the open internet, it’s because you or your publication could be doing a better job attracting and keeping a community of interest.

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Comments on “Reporter Annoyed To Discover He Doesn't Own Facts; Suggests 'Global Paywall' For Reporters Like Himself”

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44 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

Hmmm I actually support his idea. Maybe this experiment would prove once and for all that paywalls are bad and at the same time it would weed out some of the traditional media that are simply bad giving space to new faces and better journalism. I’m quite sure even those that are good but are misguided enough to join such paywall will just have a bump in their careers. Others would simply fall into oblivion.

Heck, set up that paywall, I’m all for it. I suspect there will be plenty of news outside that garden for us mere mortals that aren’t interested in paying for news but would gladly support news blogs, publications and organizations we believe are doing it right.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Maybe this experiment would prove once and for all that paywalls are bad and at the same time it would weed out some of the traditional media that are simply bad giving space to new faces and better journalism

Or maybe as this plan fails, they will jump up and down and yell “pirates! pirates are ruining our business!” and some handy governments will create a bunch of laws that f*** up the internet a little more.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I can’t think of any good reason to defend Gawker media. Even if it has something to do with free speech, it’s still a shady commercial click bait advertising agency that deserves no voice in any argument related to it.

If it helps, think of it as defending a principle, rather than defending Gawker.

It’s like the ACLU defending the right of Neo-Nazis to march in Skokie. They weren’t defending the goose-stepping morons’ beliefs, they were defending the right to freedom of speech and assembly (and so, by extension, defending all of us).

(Apologies to Gawker for the Neo-Nazi comparison. You can be bad, but not that bad. Generally. Except for some of the commenters.)

Hmm says:

Well I think he has a point that there are a lot of online publications which build their businesses off other’s content, but I don’t think a paywall is the right solution. Honest question – can any of this be handled with current copyright laws? There seems there is a pretty big difference between sourcing an article and copy/pasting large chunks like some bloggers do.

Reporting the news is an expensive and dying business. It takes a lot of money to send people into the world in search of the truth. As much as I hear about how traditional mainstream outlets are outdated and unnecessary, I don’t see many new school publications stepping up to the same level. In fact, I just see a lot of ctrl-c ctrl-v.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re:

While some strictly automated news aggregators existed and would pull off some traffic years ago, they really don’t exist now.

Any that didn’t provide something more than just a reprint of an existing story were not profitable and died. You see a few spring up now and again, but unless they start to provide something useful, they don’t seem to survive.

If an aggregator IS taking a lot of your traffic, you really have to examine what they are adding and fix your product.

I noted above, the story in question does not look like it was actually taken from Taub and re-written. If it was, they did a WAY better job and provided links and videos, etc. It’s simply a better product.

If Taub (or, you know the first publication to write about this because Taub WAS NOT FIRST) had done a better job with the story, he may have seen more of the traffic. His version is news print moved online – there are no videos, no links to more information, NO INTERNET.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Reporting the news is an expensive and dying business

Can you present any evidence to show that it’s really dying? I’m seeing tons of new investigative reporting, and new investigative reporting outfits popping up all the time.

It takes a lot of money to send people into the world in search of the truth.

Indeed. And we’re seeing some really great new experiments on the front. ProPublica, TheIntercept, Vice, Buzzfeed, BeaconReader — are all doing some pretty impressive investigative reporting lately. Or do you only believe it can come from major newspapers?

don’t see many new school publications stepping up to the same level. In fact, I just see a lot of ctrl-c ctrl-v.

Ah, because you haven’t been looking.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

We’ve also seen some interesting collaboration — formal and informal — among new and old media around the reporting on Ferguson. A couple of examples:
– Print media reporters (such as Wesley Lowery from the Washington Post and Matt Pearce from the L.A. Times, for example) using Twitter and Vine, freely linking to other reporting from other outlets (including online-only such as HuffPo) and from “citizen journalists” on the ground.
– The Guardian and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch teaming up to collect (online) people’s accounts of racial profiling.
Collaboration, done right, can lead to better reporting and at the same time conserve resources (staff time and money).

Publications that are willing and able to adapt can endure and even thrive.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“As much as I hear about how traditional mainstream outlets are outdated and unnecessary, I don’t see many new school publications stepping up to the same level.”

But look at why mainstream outlets are dying. It’s not because of the internet — they started dying before the internet provided a serious alternative to the daily newspaper.

The reason they’re dying is because they decided to stop doing doing their jobs. With only rare exceptions, journalism doesn’t really exist in the mainstream outlets. It’s been replaced with entertainment pieces and press releases.

In other words, mainstream outlets started doing pretty much the same thing as the web sites they’re complaining about now. They just start doing it first.

Michael (profile) says:

It actually looks like they got much of their information from another story posted by South-Slope News 5 days before this clown’s investigative reporting appeared and from a local tipster.

It looks like Taub’s complaint is really that he was the “middle guy” that discovered this and should therefore get all of the credit?

I can see why the Village Voice is getting more traffic for their story. It’s BETTER. There are videos, more details, and LINKS TO MORE INFORMATION. Guess what you clueless people at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle – having some external links to more information will help your search rankings. Oh, and maybe if you enable anonymous commenting you could actually start building up a community and a discussion.

Please don’t complain when people go to the superior product – make yours better.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Even if he was the first reporter to cover it, he wouldn’t be the one who discovered it. The witnesses who “saw” this guy running around would be the ones who discovered it. This is a classic case of what I do is important and what everyone else does is of no value. From the Brooklyn Eagle story: “Lebron didn’t believe the sightings at first, until he saw photographs taken by supposed ‘witnesses’ (though these individuals, Lebron advised, may also be involved with the antics).” Let’s break this down: someone dresses up like a clown and runs around a cemetery –> people “witness” it –> media outlet hears about this and writes about it –> other media outlets write about it. Somehow this guy in the middle, this Middleman, got the idea that he is originator.

The media usually don’t discover stories, they rarely just happen to be at a place where something happens and get to be the first to witness something. What normally happens is they hear about something from someone else then they write about it. They think the act of writing about something gives them ownership of something they didn’t create.

Nurlip (profile) says:

a big part of why i go to one site over another is comments. Comments on this site or another site like Ars Technica tend to have at least a few threads of legitimate discussion and opinions i find new and/or interesting.
Reporting is obviously the other big part, even when Ars Technica gets a story i still look forward to reading about it on TechDirt b/c the articles tend to have more insight and depth in addition to the superior comment quality.

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Dear AnonyBabs,

I represent the OROA (Organized Rats Of America) in matters of law and public perception. While my clients are fully aware of their association with vermin, quickly handing over information to authorities, and generally disliked behavior, it is their position that they should not be associated with the likes of Comcast and Verizon.

We would never attempt to stifle your ability to refer to the merged companies of Comcast and Verizon as Vermcast, it is offensive to refer to these companies as rat-like.

Although we do not intend to seek a legal remedy, it would be appreciated if you would kindly post a retraction and apology for this gross misrepresentation of rats.

Thank you.

Chris Brand says:

Let me get thi sstraight

So he’s predicting that in five to ten years, all the news sites will just be full of re-runs of old news, because nobody will be reporting on the actual news ? Sounds fairly implausible until I think about the number of times recently that I’ve seen stories from 2011 or 2012 re-circulating on Facebook…

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Who's the Clown?

I am noting that this guy is upset about a story about a clown. Seems like the article is petty, and his attitude even more petty.

He might have a argument if he had broken an important story, but then, if he had, he would have all the documentation, and any followers would either need to collect that documentation, delaying publication, or link back to the original story for that documentation.

I think there is much more as to how the story is presented, rather than who’s there first. I would rather read from someone who has done some consideration of a situation than someone who rushes to publication just to be ‘first’, and does a piss poor job of analysis.

TasMot (profile) says:

The New Form of Sharing

What Taub seems to be missing is that the Internet is just the new form of sharing. It used to be, in the good old days (sorry I couldn’t resist), that people stood around the water cooler, sat in the barber shop, in the town square or a local diner, deli, or watering hole and discussed the news. Now, it is “shared” over the Internet to friends near and far.

So something changed, something is always changing.

Now, the news business needs to adapt. Taub wants to make a change by putting all of the big legacy news organizations behind a big all-purpose great paywall of legacy news agencies. Somebody tell them good luck with that and good-bye.

Other “new media” organizations are organizing around the different “communities of interest” instead of just people who just happen to live near each other. It seems to be working well for them. Too bad (or good) the legacy players just want to live in the past.

Anonymous Coward says:

The end of News?

The problem is that the outlets that fund the “original reporting” ……..will cease to exist in about five to ten years.

Guess that solves his problem.
In ten years no one will copy news because there will be no news left to copy!

I can see the Techdirt headlines in the future:
“This just in, nothing new happened today!”
“2024 year in review, nothing happened”
“Predictions for next year, nothing new will happen”

Anonymous Coward says:

hardly "repackaged"

What a load of crap. If you read the follow-up stories, it’s clear that the second one, at least, doesn’t simply “repackage” the earlier story, but contains substantial additional information, follow-up reporting, and research, including links to video that was not present in the first story. Taub doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

Anonymous Coward says:

I encourage the yoyo to setup his paywall and then wonder why no one shows up. Here’s some clues why they won’t.

★ Unless your news is about something people relate to, you have no market. No market means no pay.

★ Unless your news is about things local, people have far less interest in paying for it. They can get global news everywhere already.

★ Unless you can deliver your news up to the minute, you are running on yesterday’s tech. No one today wants to pay for day old news in the form of a newspaper.

★ It no longer takes a reporter and a photographer to record news. See what happened in Ferguson as the cops tried to prevent reporters from recording the events. People everywhere at the scene did that and there were too many to prevent it from happening.

★ The contents of news is changing. I personally don’t want to hear of the equivalent of reality tv in the news. You can keep your Hollydud actors and what they are doing as well as dumb crook news. I’m not interested and I am not going to pay for it.

★ The NYT has this paywall idea. Know what? I don’t live in NY, neither city nor state. Exactly why would I pay for news that isn’t going to help me? Simply, other than the rare article it’s not relevant to my lifestyle.

★ Journalism is also changing. For all that haven’t gotten the word yet, advertisers are not willing to pay the old rates. Guess what that does for salaries?

★ News is no longer as valued as it was because now interaction has become more important. Locking up the house doesn’t encourage interaction. You will always loose out to the news aggregator that allows commenting.

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