Thursday, August 06, 2009

Why I believe in the link economy

Posted by: Reuters Staff
Tags: Mediafile
The following is a guest column by Chris Ahearn, President, Media at Thomson Reuters.
“Do unto others”
It’s a simple standard my mom taught me when I was a kid – yours probably taught it too. It isn’t always easy, but in business it’s a good guiding light if you don’t want your company to be evil.
Recently there has been a rising crescendo of finger-pointing, shrieking, braying and teeth-gnashing about the future of the news. In the last couple of weeks there have been many comments on the AP’s proposals, Attributor’s proposals, Ian Shapira’s story and fair use.
After some of the AP commentary, I posted a tweet directed at Jeff Jarvis that prompted some members in the community to ask me to be more outspoken, asking me to be blatant about it, to post a public statement. For those who know me, I usually don’t need to be asked.
To start, yes the global economy is fairly grim and the cyclical aspects of our business are biting extremely hard in the face of the structural changes. But the Internet isn’t killing the news business any more than TV killed radio or radio killed the newspaper. Incumbent business leaders in news haven’t been keeping up. Many leaders continue to help push the business into the ditch by wasting “resources” (management speak for talented people) on recycling commodity news. Reader habits are changing and vertically curated views need to be meshed with horizontal read-around ones.
Blaming the new leaders or aggregators for disrupting the business of the old leaders, or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies – they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works.
A better approach is to have a general agreement among community members to treat others’ content, business and ideas with the same respect you would want them to treat yours.
If you are doing something that you would object to if others did it to you – stop. If you don’t want search engines linking to you, insert code to ban them.
I believe in the link economy. Please feel free to link to our stories — it adds value to all producers of content. I believe you should play fair and encourage your readers to read-around to what others are producing if you use it and find it interesting.
I don’t believe you could or should charge others for simply linking to your content. Appropriate excerpting and referencing are not only acceptable, but encouraged. If someone wants to create a business on the back of others’ original content, the parties should have a business relationship that benefits both.
Let’s stop whining and start having real conversations across party lines. Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I don’t believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police; agreeing on a code of conduct and ethics is in everyone’s best interests.
Our news ecosystem is evolving and learning how it can be open, diverse, inclusive and effective. With all the new tools and capabilities we should be entering a new golden age of journalism – call it journalism 3.0. Let’s identify how we can birth it and agree what is “fair use” or “fair compensation” and have a conversation about how we can work together to fuel a vibrant, productive and trusted digital news industry. Let’s identify business models that are inclusive and that create a win-win relationship for all parties.
This is not code for some hidden agenda – it is an open call for collective problem solving. Let’s do it wiki-style and edit it in the public domain. Let’s define the code of conduct and ethics we would all like to operate under.
My suggestion is we start with “do unto others” as our guiding spirit – I bet it would make all of our mothers proud.
Post your comments below (good, bad or ugly) or send me an email. You can reach me directly at chris.ahearn@thomsonreuters.com or via twitter @cjahearn.

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