Wednesday, December 24, 2008



Suppose I were to tell you that the guys across town were going to send you lots of customers. Suppose I were to add that they were going to invest in the project. Suppose further that I added that it wouldn’t cost you a thing. Raise your hands if you oppose this.

I didn’t think so.

And yet, so many newspaper and TV sites can’t get past the concept of the link economy. There is this thinking that “if my competitor links to me, they are stealing my audience.” Explain to me how.

Let’s put this in bricks and mortar terms. You run a small bookstore. The big bookstore in town has decided to put up a sign in its store listing all the books you have. For every book they sell, they recommend related books that your specialty store sells. Sometimes people decide that, based on the titles, they’re not interested. But it never really costs you anything. The number of visits you get to your store doesn’t suffer; it increases.

Obviously, this works out great for everyone.

But many traditional media companies think you’re somehow “stealing” from them when you post a link to them. They see Google News as the enemy. They see local news aggregators as thieves.


The latest battle in this, frankly, silly war comes from my hometown. has smartly built a news aggregator for the suburb of Newton. (Disclosure: I have worked with people at The site is called Your Town Newton, and is a section within Your Town Newton is one of three town sites has launched that aggregate information from various news sources. It’s a portal in much the same way Google News is. In fact, if I were to start a Newton Blog, it would look much the same.'s Newton hyperlocal page

Among the links are stories from the Newton TAB, the local newspaper and website published by GateHouse Media. The links sometimes include a sentence or two — a headline, usually — telling the reader what the story is about. The links go directly to the TAB. So, in essence, what the TAB has received is an unbelievable Christmas gift. The Boston Globe is publicizing the stories in the TAB for free. The Globe does get ad money from this section — but it doesn’t cost the TAB any lost revenue. Remember — people are reading the stories on the TAB’s site. It’s no different than linking from a blog or seeing the headline in your RSS reader.

GateHouse Media's Newton TAB

What does GateHouse do with this present? It throws it in the Globe’s face. GateHouse Media is suing the Boston Globe in Federal Court for unlawful use of its content. According to the TAB:

Kirk Davis, president of GateHouse Media New England, said the company filed the lawsuit “to enforce its rights under the law and protect the integrity of its trademarks and original news content, in furtherance of its ability to provide hyper-local news coverage to its newspaper readers and Web site viewers in the communities throughout the greater Boston region which it has served over many years.”

The paper’s story goes on to report that the practice is stealing money:

“In promoting the Your Town sites, has noted that all stories are linked to their original source, thereby sending readers to GateHouse web sites. But the links bypass advertising on the homepages for the GateHouse sites, which, according to the complaint, is where GateHouse generates the majority of its online ad revenue for those papers.”

If GateHouse is indeed generating the majority of its online revenue on its homepages, it’s in BIG trouble. A typical site sees about 25% of its visits come to or through its homepage. The rest are from referrals, searches and links. So how does sending traffic to GateHouse sites hurt GateHouse? And why doesn’t GateHouse sue everyone who links to them?


The real point that GateHouse misses is this: every link from increases its “Google Juice.” A link from — one of the country’s biggest regional websites — is gold. Google measures your site’s value, in part, by the quantity and quality of inbound links. And a link from is a hell of a lot more valuable than a link from your average blog.

My partner, Terry Heaton, wrote in his essay “Links the Currency of the Machine” how links are a matter of Web 101:

Links have value. They are the currency of the web, and as the Machine gets smarter and is able to qualify and validate links, their value will increase. Like any other currency, they will be traded for goods and services. If you link to me, I should pay you for that, because it has real value to me. As media companies, we should think carefully about this.

A permanent link — or as least as permanent as the web permits — has the highest value, for it keeps on giving.

Dan Gillmor writes that the case may hinge on how went about importing the GateHouse headlines. He references the actual complaint (posted here by Dan Kennedy of the Boston Phoenix) where GateHouse claims it implemented measures specifically aimed at blocking

Lacking any coöperation from defendant, GateHouse implemented certain electronic security measures on Wicked Local, to prevent users with a certain Internet Protocol (“IP”) address from scraping content from GateHouse’s website. Plaintiff’s security measures did not deter defendant in the least — defendant posted original content to the Infringing Website the very next day after they were installed.

Writes Gillmor: “…if (this allegation is) true, (it) makes me much more sympathetic to GateHouse. Indeed, it’s up to GateHouse in the end if it wishes to hide from the reality of the link economy. There’s no law against bad business practices.


GateHouse was one of the early adopters of the Creative Commons license. It had a vision of people sharing its content. Truly — it was a radical idea. But it says that the for-profit, by linking to it, violates the CC license.

As for the Boston Globe, its parent company, The New York Times is on the right side of this argument:

“Far from being illegal or improper, this practice of linking to sites is common and is familiar to anyone who has searched the Web,” (New York Times spokeswoman Catherine) Mathis said. “It is fair and benefits both Web users and the originating site.”

Damn right it does.

“Send them away to bring them back.” It’s one of my key messages to our clients. At a time when papers are getting killed, does GateHouse really want to tie up its money with lawyers as it literally makes a federal case over web links?

Humbug.   Link>


more content is seen outside walled gardens than insideTo complicate matters on the issue about which Steve wrote above is the growing realization by media companies that the walls surrounding their content are too restrictive to make serious revenue. We’ve been touting the value of “unbundled content” for years — content we create that is able to be used anywhere on the Web. Marketers like to name things, and this is now called “place-based distribution.” CBS Chairman Sumner Redstone said it best, “We are now in a fragmented search economy, which means we need to extend our content beyond our own destination sites so consumers can reach it more easily.”

The best way to monetize unbundled content is through ads in RSS feeds or ads as items in RSS feeds, but now there appears to be a new effort underway from the content tracking company Attributor. I say “appears,” because the plan is still being formulated.

Attributor’s software scans the Web in “near real time” to provide clients with reports on where their content (or chunks of their content) is being used. The company provides a report that the clients can use to issue take-down notices, demand links or offer licenses, depending on the extent to which their content is being used.

But now the company is working with the niche political news site Politico on a way that ad code can be inserted along with its content. According to a report in Online Media Daily, this is another way publishers will be able to monetize content.

Rich Pearson, VP of marketing at Attributor, said the Redwood City, Calif. company will rely on technology to automate the process. “We are working with Politico, but it hasn’t been formally launched,” he said.

Last week, Reuters–a division of global information company Thomson Reuters–said it will incorporate government and political news from Politico, a unit of Capital News, into its newswire service in a revenue-sharing deal. The group will allow Politico to sell online advertising on their sites. Ad code attached to the media content will determine the revenue-sharing agreement.

This sounds interesting, but I’d need to hear a whole lot more in order to give a thumbs up or down on the concept. I still believe the best way to monetize place-based distribution is through RSS advertising, even if it means placing an ad in the middle of RSS items. The Attributor concept seems to rely on establishing relationships with all parties involved, which may or may not be a viable option.   Link>


In the paradoxical world of addiction recovery, the word “survive” is seen as a block to progress. One doesn’t survive cocaine, oxycontin or alcohol; recovery begins by admitting complete defeat, and this is a very hard concept to swallow, for who wants to be defeated? Surviving is all about winning. It’s about being tough, gritting your teeth in the face of adversity and coming out on top.

Ego, the experts say, is the problem when it comes to self-destructive behavior, and it must be crushed before recovery is possible.

In the CBS reality show “Survivor,” the aim of the game is to “outwit, outplay and outlast” competitors, and those are appropriate goals for any survivor. In the world of local media today, we have strong and talented managers trying to outwit, outplay and outlast disruptive innovations, when it might be better just to admit defeat. But we’re addicted to power and success, and our ego tells us that we can beat this thing. We can win. We think. We hope.

I was talking with an industry colleague the other day about the state of local television companies and stations. “Most people I talk with,” he told me, “are just hunkering down and trying to wait it out.” Waiting it out is a form of surviving. Diane Mermigas wrote similarly in her excellent predictions for 2009 that “all media will hang on (in 2009).” Hanging on is another form of surviving. In a article last week by Mary Collins called “Communication Is Key To Surviving 2009,” she wrote: “As the old saying goes, we are all in the same boat; and…we’ll only get to shore safely by rowing together.” Pulling together is another survival skill, as is the notion of “we gotta just keep rowing.”

This theme of surviving 2009 is everywhere, but I’d like to pose an important question for anybody so hunkered, hanging, waiting or rowing, because waiting it out assumes “it” will end and that there will be a reward for those who are still standing when “it” is over. I’m not so sure, so here’s the question: What if the old model is gone for good and it doesn’t come back?

This is an important question, because the downward slide for media companies began long before the economy went south. This is hidden in the complexity of the recession, and the economy is being blamed for all the layoffs, bankruptcies and other unpleasantries. There’s no doubt the economy is exacerbating things, but it’s extremely dangerous to ignore the possibility that it’s masking other, more permanent problems.

Umair Haque, the brilliant London Business School economist who has since taken up residence at Harvard, has been sounding warnings about the economy for years. One of his themes is that the problem with this particular recession (or whatever you wish to call it) is decay in the DNA of the whole economic system. That’s a lot different than a “correction,” regardless of its depth. Haque relentlessly points to systemic problems in examining why this or that happened.

We cannot organize tomorrow’s businesses — or economy — like yesterday’s. What do I mean? Simple. How should we organize and manage how firms interact with consumers? The Economist thinks it’s “creepy” but cool to trick consumers, because it’s profitable.

Is it?

Not a chance — as our research at the Lab notes, the fact is: companies who can build authentic, honest, open, collaborative relationships with consumers are significantly more profitable (and sustainably profitable) than companies who treat consumers deceptively, antagonistically, and manipulatively.

True power isn’t the power to manipulate. It’s the power to create. There is a world of difference between the two — that orthodox economics has yet to understand.

This is tremendous wisdom for media companies, who have been treating the people formerly known as the audience with manipulative disdain for years. It has to stop, for we live in a networked world now, one that rejects the platforms of mass marketing. It is an era in which consumers are god-like in their information choices. Now is a time for leadership in our industry, and what better place to begin than with consumers, our customers.

So rather than hanging on in survivor mode, perhaps we need to just get out of our own way and let the innovators at every level of our companies do their thing. Let’s support their efforts, rather than wrestle them to the ground in the name of hunkering down or surviving. Let’s think strategically about how to approach this new world.

This is a time of incredible opportunity, if we are willing to admit defeat to an enemy we never had a chance against in the first place. Rather than fighting it, we need to embrace it, and that’s hard to do when your strategy is survival.   Link>


In 2009, the industry will congratulate itself as it always does. There will be awards from the usual suspects to the usual suspects for the usual topics. And while thousands of journalists lose their jobs, thousands of dollars will be spent on applications for these awards. (And, in some cases, for the plaques.) Meanwhile, the clueless Pulitzer Prize folks still can’t even decide what makes a newspaper a newspaper, and other awards are confusing the matter with entries like “Best Newspaper Website From a Large Market” or “Best Use of Video from a Non-Daily Newspaper Website in a Medium-Sized Market with 10 or Fewer Cats Per Thousand” or whatever.

Stop it. We’re dying.

I see no reason to waste our time in 2009 patting ourselves on the backs for anything other than reinventing journalism, reinvigorating newsrooms and turning companies around.

These awards are supposed to be sources of pride. We brag about them in promos and on our Websites. But what good is a local Emmy to the 30 people you just laid off? How can any station or newspaper in good conscience waste the time to send in entries to these things when they’re firing people because of a lack of foresight?

If we’re going to pat ourselves on the back, it needs to be for the things that matter. And right now, what matters is saving local news. So how about a “Best Morphing into a Multi-Media Local News and Information Outlet?” We need an award for “Best Retraining of Staff for Use of Modern Tech.” A simple “Best 2009 Local Business Plan” would be outstanding. Winning “Most Efficient Use of Everyone in the Newsroom” would make you an instant national leader.

“Best Adoption of Continuous News” would show your community that you cared enough about delivering the news when they wanted it, and on their terms. “Best Integration of Community Blogs, Twitters and Social Media” is an award waiting to happen. Sales departments should fight for “Best Work Integrating Needs of Local Advertisers.”

The “Best Journalism” award-winners should be required to prove how they covered the story in full. I want to know how the story was represented on every platform. What good is “best breaking news” coverage if nobody alerted me to the fact it was taking place?

Everyone knows that when you reward someone for bad behavior, they just keep replicating the bad behavior. Let’s give awards for what matter in 2009. Let’s recognize what we need most in journalism: leadership and change.   Link>


We’re taking a week off to enjoy the season and will return with our first newsletter of 2009 on January 7th. On behalf of everybody here, may this holiday season find you and yours happy, joyous, and filled with the love of family and friends. And may the new year bring opportunities and advancement for everyone.