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.