Want To Know Why Newspapers Are Going Out Of Business? Because Adding Value Never Seems To Be An Option

from the massive-failure-in-action dept

Lots of folks in the newspaper business say that Howard Owens is a guy who really gets the online news business -- and recognizes the challenges and opportunities. I don't know much about him, but I hear such good things from people who I trust, that I have to admit that I'm perplexed by Owens' recent post where he defends GateHouse Media's lawsuit against the NY Times. As you may recall, GateHouse sued the NY Times for effectively aggregating local stories from GateHouse sites and putting them on its own page. These stories all included links back to the original, and didn't include the entire content, but did include the headline and the lede -- which most people (outside of newspaper people) consider to be perfectly reasonable fair use. The NY Times eventually settled in a way that seemed bad for everyone. Owens worked at GateHouse (and was quiet about the lawsuit at the time). He left soon after, and there was some talk that it may have been because he disagreed with the lawsuit -- but that appears to not be the case.

Instead, he has written this lengthy defense of the lawsuit. But rather than vindicate GateHouse, it seems to represent a lot of what's wrong in the online newspaper business these days. When someone who "gets it" like Howard Owens does, and then declares that "I don't know what more we could have done" after describing the various legal threats Gatehouse tossed up against the NY Times, it makes me shake my head.

What more could you have done? You could have competed more effectively. Owens complains about "substitute home pages," where the Boston.com was trying to take away GateHouse's readers. There's a pretty straightforward response to that: if that's all it takes to take away your community, you've failed your community. If the entire value of your site was in providing the headlines and ledes, and someone else copying those headlines and leads causes you to lose the community, you haven't been providing enough value to that community, and you deserve to lose it. Newspapers have neglected their biggest asset, their own communities, for way too long, and this is another example of that. If GateHouse provided a better service where the value went beyond the headline and the lede, there wouldn't be concerns about how such "copying" would take away from GateHouse.

As we've pointed out repeatedly, there are a bunch of sites out there that copy all our content. Not just the headlines and the ledes, but all of the content. Some are pure spam sites. Some are aggregation sites. Some are trying (and failing) to prove the point that we'd get upset if someone copied our stuff. But, that's not what happens -- because this site has much more than just the content. It has the community. It has the Insight Community, where we actually help the community make money. Some of our community members made five figures in 2008. What newspaper has done that for their community? Our community has great ongoing discussions all the time. These other sites can't replicate that. All they can do is end up sending us more traffic.

So, I'm sorry, but the idea that GateHouse Media couldn't do anything else is ridiculous. It's a sign of all that's wrong with online newspapers today. They don't look at all of the amazing things they can do. They just throw up their hands and wonder what they can do, beyond charging people or suing.

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  1. identicon
    honest, 3 Mar 2009 @ 7:35pm

    Howard Owens

    Let's see. He's been fired by Gatehouse Media newspaper group and the Bakersfield Californian and you think he's smart?

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