Monday, December 12, 2005

ITJourno and the flogosphere

Irony is all over this one, but I'll try to wade through it., the site started by my old journalist sparring partner Phil Sim, today posted a rant by Phil entitled Something smelly in the flogosphere. That link is behind a login wall, as is the entire site - it's invite-only for Australian technology journalists and PR flacks.

Phil has a problem with blogs, specifically that they play fast and loose with copyright. He didn't like it that someone leaked an edition of ITJ's Epitome column to Frank Arrigo of Microsoft Australia, who then pasted it in full on his blog and commented upon it. I blogged about it at the time, as did Fairfax journo Mark Jones. Without quoting the whole thing, here's the nub of Phil's argument:
The ITJourno content is firewalled for a reason. It’s existence is based on the commercial model that led to it’s creation, which necessitates password-protected, subscriber-only consumption. We fail to see the "virtuous" side of Frank Arrigo, or anyone else, copying and pasting into their blog a large slab of content, which they do not even have fair and proper access to in the first place.

The obvious rejoinder to that is that a journalist bemoaning leaks is a tad silly - no offence, Phil. Good journalism, much of which is reliant on leaks, is the main focus of the Epitome columns. Each day, points are awarded by the Epitome writers (Phil, Simon Sharwood and Ian Yates) for the newsworthiness of published stories and prizes are given out each month and year for the best journalists and publications, with the big points usually reserved for stories which are based on leaks. You might not think giving someone else a copy of a private blog deserves to be called a leak in comparison to a whistleblower giving classified government documents or other such highly sensitive material to a journalist, but IMO there is enough of a similarity there to justify a legitimate criticism of Phil's position.

If we ignore Phil's journalism background and just focus on his argument as a businessman, then I think he has a valid point. If he chooses to go down the route of having walled up content, then other publishers (given that everyone posting on the Internet is a publisher) should respect that, or face the consequences. People may gainsay Phil's choice, as Kevin Leversee of Pandora Squared did in the comments of Mark Jones' blog:
Mark- It is like driving a nail with your forehead...ITJourno so needs to come into Web 2.0 enablement...
reminds me of Dan Gilmore- He had it rough in Silicon Valley- then he realised something,
His readers know more than he does. As you know success is embracing the shift and learning how to ride the wave.
I've often wondered why Phil doesn't open Epitome up to the outside world, as it could be like a localised prose version of with a few little tweaks (like easing up on journo in-jokes) and have as much success. Epitome serves its purpose though, which is to lock journalist eyeballs to ITJ every day so that it becomes a vehicle for his other services - and there's nothing wrong with that.

So, while he's on that track, I'm right there with him. Then he takes it a bit further. He talks a bit about splogs which use other sites' content - that's fine, we're all against that. As Tony Kornheiser would say, the big finish:
Surely as blogs, forums, search engines, news aggregation services and so forth, increasingly become “gateways” to content, mainstream media outlets will have to tackle this issue, and not too long into the future. A probable first step will be for sites to very clearly spell out what it considers fair re-use of its content - how much can be quoted, and under what terms and conditions this is allowed. And then somebody, somewhere needs to launch a couple of legal cases and put the fear of God into bloggers, and forum operators.

Perhaps the media industry needs a watchdog, along the lines of the software industry's BSA, or the MIPI organisation operated by the music industry.

Part of the wonder and utility of the Internet is it's hyperlinked and self-referential nature. However, just like a piece of software or a piece of music, content is a product and its owners should have the right to grant access to its consumption, based on reasonable terms and conditions that they see fit.

I realise that's a rather large quote so I might incur Phil's wrath merely by reprinting it, but I thought anything smaller would lose the context in which the argument was couched.

Many of those who consider themselves part of the blogosphere would take great exception to what Phil is proposing. Doc Searls et al pooh-pooh the "silo" or "walled garden" approach to content to which Phil (and the site where Mark Jones' professional content is published, adhere as being antithetical to free marketplaces. I happen to agree with Phil's last sentence, although judging what is reasonable is problematic.

Apart from any ideological arguments, using the BSA and MIPI as examples demonstrates the futility of standing like King Canute and roaring at the wave to stop coming, instead of learning how to ride it as Kevin says. Readers are going to reuse content in the digital age whether the publishers like it or not, unless they impose DRM - and no major DRM system for content has yet worked sufficiently to deliver on publishers' wishes while simultaneously not annoying the public.

I have a great respect for Phil and consider him a friend. He has built a business out of nothing, and I can only hope to have the success he has had. However he, like many journalists, is still in the process of internalising this Web 2.0 stuff. He eventually got podcasting, so hopefully he'll join us in the flogosphere sometime soon.


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