Push. Dig. Push. Dig.

AP Photo

Sometimes, events in media are so bizarre that all you can do is just laugh.

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (a great school) has been given a $1.9 million grant from the Knight Foundation “that will provide funding over three years to fund initiatives aimed at ensuring TV news companies remain competitive in broadcast and digital storytelling.” The AP says the money will be used to “research the future of television news.”

Okay.

The story reports that part of the grant will be used to develop “an online hub where newsrooms can see the latest strategies their counterparts elsewhere are trying out.”

“The best way I can describe it is I think it’s going to be a resource where someone can come to this site from anywhere and get a sense of what new ideas are floating around in space, what works and what doesn’t,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Mark Lodato.

The school also plans to become a testing ground for improved local news content and dissemination.

“In an academic space like ASU, you can fail and understand the progress. It’s very hard to do that in a corporate environment when corporate dollars and people’s jobs are at risk,” Lodato said.

This reminds me of the failed “Newspaper Next” project by the American Press Institute over 10 years ago. One thing we learned back then is that it’s pure foolishness to ask the people digging the hole you’re in to come up with a solution to the hole. It’s impossible. They can’t stop digging, and that means every solution involves some form of digging. Dig. Dig. Dig. The money will be used to make sure that TV remains competitive in “broadcast and digital storytelling,” as if that’s a problem. Dig. Dig. Dig. Moreover, the hole doesn’t have anything to do with content in the first place; it’s about paradigm shifts in advertising, so why not study that? Our world today is all about pull strategies, because the devices we’re using to consume content these days are too personal to willingly permit pushing. Again, you can’t ask people pushing to come up with something different, because all they know is push. Push. Dig. Push. Dig. You get the idea.

And, I love how Dean Lodato has already pronounced failure. No need to say it after-the-fact if you admit it up front. Moreover, there’s no more competitive business in all the world than local television news, and if you think stations will drop their pants and reveal their “new ideas,” you’re effing nuts. Besides, that’s what consultants do, right? No, I’m not talking about dropping pants.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve become a total cynic when it comes to this stuff, but I view this as a colossal waste of time, attention, and resources. Besides, the industry doesn’t care. They’re far too busy licking their chops over the $8 billion that’s projected to be spent with them during this year’s mid-term elections. Most of that will likely go straight to the bottom line regardless of whether the fundamentals justify the candidate spending. Therefore, from a corporate perspective – is there really any other that matters? – there’s no problem.

And so it goes.

Living by your own rules

I’m enjoying this morning the story of popular deal site Woot and its comical busting of The AP over lifting quotes from its site. Woot was purchased by Amazon last week for $110 million, and in its story about the purchase, The AP pulled quotes from the blog of  Woot CEO Matt Rutledge. This is a violation of the rules by which The AP restricts bloggers (and others) from lifting quotes from its own stories, and Woot is calling them out on their hypocrisy by asking for payment.

So, The AP, here we are. Just to be fair about this, we’ve used your very own pricing scheme to calculate how much you owe us. By looking through the link above, and comparing your post with our original letter, we’ve figured you owe us roughly $17.50 for the content you borrowed from our blog post, which, by the way, we worked very very hard to create.

The post goes on to offer The AP its deal of the day instead and closes with the scolding, “Don’t force us to pass this matter to a collection agency.” LMAO.

It’s stuff like this that reveals how impossible it is to try to keep feet in both worlds as the disruption to one of those worlds rolls on. The AP’s rules were an effort to end the wholesale copying of its content by a few, but the chilling effect on everybody else was an obvious and deliberate consequence. By getting caught with its pants down on this, The AP will have difficulty in pursuing anybody who violates its rules.

And that’s the problem with rules. If you’re going to make them, then you have to live by them. Lifting quotes from Rutledge is what any reporter would do, which is why these particular rules are so bogus on their face.

AP clarifies copyright threat

Thanks to Ars Technica for probing AP news editor Ted Bridis on what the cooperative plans to do to stop theft of its copyrights. Technology soon to be deployed will search for entire stories that thieves have lifted and presented without a license.

“The guidelines are coming,” Bridis promised. “AP’s main concern are not the bloggers that excerpt a relevant passage, and then derive some commentary. What happens an awful lot is just wholesale theft. So those are the ones that will find the cease and desist letters arriving.”

OK, we said. How will you define “wholesale theft?” If somebody publishes a paragraph of AP copy with a link to the AP story, will that be theft?

“Not at all,” Bridis replied. “I don’t think AP would have any problem with that.” We didn’t want to give the impression that we were bargaining, but we pressed on as to exactly how one would disturb AP’s comfort zone. Was this about not posting links?

No, Bridis replied. “What I’m talking about, and what has really riled up our internal copyright folks, are the bloggers who take, just paste an entire 800 word story into their blog. They don’t even comment on it. And it happens way more than most people realize.”

Go read the full article. It really does clarify things for everybody.

AP clarifies copyright threat

Thanks to Ars Technica for probing AP news editor Ted Bridis on what the cooperative plans to do to stop theft of its copyrights. Technology soon to be deployed will search for entire stories that thieves have lifted and presented without a license.

“The guidelines are coming,” Bridis promised. “AP’s main concern are not the bloggers that excerpt a relevant passage, and then derive some commentary. What happens an awful lot is just wholesale theft. So those are the ones that will find the cease and desist letters arriving.”

OK, we said. How will you define “wholesale theft?” If somebody publishes a paragraph of AP copy with a link to the AP story, will that be theft?

“Not at all,” Bridis replied. “I don’t think AP would have any problem with that.” We didn’t want to give the impression that we were bargaining, but we pressed on as to exactly how one would disturb AP’s comfort zone. Was this about not posting links?

No, Bridis replied. “What I’m talking about, and what has really riled up our internal copyright folks, are the bloggers who take, just paste an entire 800 word story into their blog. They don’t even comment on it. And it happens way more than most people realize.”

Go read the full article. It really does clarify things for everybody.

The AP and its uphill battle

I got an email last night from Paul Colford, Director of Media Relations for the Associated Press. It was the canned response to anyone who has commented on the “misunderstanding” involving the cooperative and a Tennessee radio station over the embedding of YouTube videos from the AP’s YouTube channel.

There was a misunderstanding of YouTube usage when the Tennessee radio station was contacted by the Associated Press regarding the AP’s more extensive online video services. No cease and desist letter was drafted or sent by AP to the station at any time. The AP was trying to offer the station a superior service for their needs — the AP Online Video Network.

OVN is a paid service. YouTube videos are free. ‘Nuff said. (See Paul Colford’s comments below. I misstated OVN’s purpose, which is advertising, including a revshare with the publisher.)

Paul also included a link to “further describe the content initiative announced by the AP this week.” You can read the FAQs yourself, but here are a couple of thoughts.

The AP is well within its rights to defend its copyrights in any way it chooses. It has no reason to defend itself publicly, so these FAQs are an excellent gesture. They’re going to help their members with search engine optimization, which is a smart move. The cooperative says this is about consumers (“to access and engage with news content in more robust ways”), and I say that’s just spin. It’s about money, and the AP’s position here is that it costs a lot of money to produce “authoritative” news and that members should be compensated somehow.

But on a much deeper level, this battle is between the old and the new, traditional media companies who make their money through bundled content and the geeks of Silicon Valley and beyond, who not only built the Web but set in place new methods and rules for participation. The AP and traditional media will lose this fight for two reasons: One, they underestimate the realities of contemporary online advertising, such as advertisers creating their own content and advertisers no longer needing the reach provided by media content in the online world. Two, they’re placing their entire hope on copyright. The RIAA did this, and it didn’t make a dent in the loss of revenue to record companies. And not only will the AP lose, but they’ll expend energy and resources on a side issue instead of reinventing a dying business. As evidence of that, the FAQs refer to the link economy as the “so-called” link economy.

The AP shot itself in the foot years ago when it created XML content and images feeds that its members could have used in developing their brand-extension websites and creating niche verticals. I recall working with a station that badly wanted these feeds, but the prices the cooperative wanted were truly outrageous. It was pretty clear that the AP thought of the Web as a way to reuse and repackage existing content and make money from it, despite the fact that members were already receiving the content in other forms. If the AP truly had the interests of its members in mind back then, a whole series of profitable and automated local niche verticals could have been created. Instead, many just backed away and silently complained, because expressing discontent didn’t do any good.

My heart goes out to friends and colleagues in traditional media businesses, and where I can, I try to make a difference by telling the truth about that which is disrupting their business. There is a way out of this, but it does not involve clinging to the past. Content isn’t king anymore, and businesses sustained only by ad-supported content are in the worst position for tomorrow. The “business” of media is advertising, and that’s the problem.

More: read Peter Kafka’s AP Exec: “To the Untrained Eye It Looks Like We’re Stupid”