Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Newspaper publishers threaten end of free internet linking

My attention was drawn to this by my friends at Brits on Pole on Twitter. I'm technically pretty stupid, but I think that what NewsNow are trying to say is that they provide a service to others by providing lists of links to newspaper's internet pages. Now, News International, publishers of the Times, Sunday Times News of the World and Sun are trying to stop them linking completely while other publishers of other papers like the Daily Fail, the Independent, the Mirror, the Telegraph and the Express are trying to impose either a charge or conditions on the links.

Newsnow's MD has also written an open letter to these publishers which explores the issues further.

This to me sounds like a pretty major threat to one of the fundamental freedoms of the internet, to link to other sites. If companies like NewsNow are stopped, then are bloggers, and even those who post links on Twitter next? I don't really understand why the newspapers want to exert such control. Maybe they take exception to bloggers having a laugh at their expense, fisking their articles in the way that Stephen and Mark recently did Jan Moir's hideously homophobic article about Stephen Gately and her subsequent apology for an apology.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I would have thought having a link to the original in an article criticising it actually gives the reader a chance to judge whether the criticism is valid. It's actually quite a fair minded way of doing things because you get to see both sides of the argument. It's also not necessary to put that link in. My criticism of Jan Moir's article deliberately didn't include the link because I didn't want to give the Mail any more traffic. If the newspapers think that they can somehow quell criticism of themselves by controlling who links to them, they're very much mistaken. It's a move that makes them more like an old style Soviet bloc news agency than a vibrant free press.

The other week the blogosphere and Twitter created a fuss to defend the rights of the Guardian to report Parliamentary proceedings over the Trafigura affair so I am somewhat dismayed to see that they are part of this move.

Sometimes I'll use a link to a news story from a newspaper website to give a bit of background information to a posting without being in any way critical. Having the link in also drives traffic to the website in question. Why on earth are newspapers complaining about getting more traffic to their websites at a time when their industry is struggling?

At first glance, this seems to me like big companies trying to control the internet, to curb the freedom that is an integral part of its existence. It seems also to be completely counterproductive.

It strikes me that if newspaper publishers turned their energy to meeting their readers' and potential readers' needs in the internet age, rather than, Canute style, try to stem the progress and freedom that the web brings, their industry wouldn't be in the mess it's in.


LJH said...

I spent many years working as a editor/producer on national newspaper and broadcasters' websites, including ones owned by News International. And I can say with absolute certainty that the company has never understood the internet and how it works and has regarded it as a threat to its business model since the day it was forced to engage.

I think your post is spot on, Caron, and I will add that this looks like nothing so much as a rearguard action by a set of businesses who have failed to move with the times (pardon the pun) and are therefore trying to force the clock back to a point where they are the sole arbiters of news and commentary once more.

But you can't move the clock back because it happens to be more convenient for you than moving with the times.

By striking at the principle of universal and free hyperlinking they are doing nothing less than trying to cripple the internet itself, to break the back of a technology that has disrupted their hegemony.

Because the record companies and film producers have done so well by going down this road already.

From News International and Associated this is bad enough. From a company like The Guardian, which understands *exactly* how the Internet works and what the implications of such a move are, it is a disgusting move.

That's the last paper copy of any newspaper that I buy until this threat is withdrawn.

Jennie said...

"Why on earth are newspapers complaining about getting more traffic to their websites at a time when their industry is struggling?"

Because they're stupid


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