Friday, April 30, 2010

Washington Post: We won't pay you, but if someone sues us, we expect you to pay us

The death throes of the big dinosaurs are terrible to watch. They sink into the muck, and the more they struggle to free themselves, the more they flounder around trying to become like those sleek new mammals they see frolicking at the edge of their tar pit, the more deeply the dinosaurs dig themselves in, ceding the future to more nimble creatures.

When the dinosaurs are newspapers it can be especially pathetic. Since the world seems to have turned to blogging and other social media, some papers think they can revive their "brand" just by signing up some local or regional bloggers. And since they seem to have turned their management over to bean counters, they're usually looking to pick up the content for free, for the byline and the "exposure" -- apparently on the theory that bloggers aren't interested in money, or making a living. And that they would have no qualms about undercutting paid journalists with their free content.

Adam Pagnucco of Maryland Politics Watch writes about the Washington Post's clumsy attempt to recruit his blog for the paper's "local blogging network (via markos). I'll let you savor his comedy of errors by reading it for yourself, but there was one point that really stood out for me. Not only was the Post trying to solicit him to provide free content, but the legalistic contract they offered included the following:
3. You represent and warrant that the Work is Your own creation, that you have all necessary rights and permissions to grant the rights set forth in Paragraph 1, and that The Post’s republication and distribution of the Work will not violate any copyright or other right of any third party. You agree to indemnify and hold harmless The Post from any claim related to the Work.
In other words, if someone should sue the Post about a story provided by Pagnucco, he would be liable. It's not a trivial matter. Bloggers rarely get sued, because there's no mileage in it -- nobody expects them to have deep pockets. No lawyer would take the case on contingency. The Post is a different matter altogether. Times may be tough, but their pockets are not exactly empty.

So -- not only are bloggers supposed to feel honored to be asked to provide free content, but they're also expected to take additional risk on their own dime simply by linking to an esteemed dead tree paper's website. It's all part of the growing media practice of treating content as a commodity and trying to provide it at the cheapest possible price -- zero if possible.

If the media are increasingly reluctant to pay for content, why on earth do they expect news "consumers" to pay for it? But then, nobody ever said the dinosaurs were very bright.

1 comment:

George H. said...

Oh, a little music from a small violin for this one. The very basis of his blog is that it is NOT part of the establishment. So he gets an offer and it is decidedly, plainly unattractive and he turns it down. For that, he gets a free whine and you seem to think it is evidence of the "world" relying on bloggers. It is another medium, not the medium. Why should anyone object to using more than one source for the news? So, as a reporter might ask, has he had any other offers? How much money does he make now with the blog? Isn't the independence he has now one of his bragging points? Was he flattered by the offer? No, we get one side. Please, inclusive, not exclusive.