AP and the Media Bloggers Assoc.

Is nothing ever simple in the blogosphere? Apparently not. I thought the Associated Press copyright-infringement debacle involving Rogers Cadenhead and his site The Drudge Retort was just a ridiculous move by a short-sighted traditional media organization, trying to somehow shove the social-media genie back into the bottle. Don’t get me wrong — it’s still all of that. But now, it’s also turned into a murky tale involving conflicts of interest (or allegations of same) and the somewhat tangled history of something called the Media Bloggers Association.

The conflicted part comes from a post by Mike Arrington at TechCrunch, in which he notes that Saul Hansell — blogger and technology editor at the New York Times — has written three posts about the brouhaha, each of which seems to be arguing that bloggers have gotten it all wrong, and the latest of which says that Digg co-founder Jay Adelson supports the Associated Press, which turns out to be… well, wrong. Saul also says that he finds it significant that:

“Mr. Adelson, a leader in the Web 2.0 world, takes a view that is a bit different than the content-must-be-free orthodoxy that has been thrown around so violently.”

I for one don’t recall any “content must be free” orthodoxy being thrown around, violently or otherwise, although it’s possible I may have missed something. I do recall a lot of people writing about the chipping away at the concept of ‘fair use’ that the AP’s case against Drudge Retort represents, which I think is something quite different. In any case, Mr. Hansell was also instrumental in another part of the controversy, which started with a somewhat huffy post by Media Bloggers Association founder Robert Cox, who says he got involved in the Cadenhead affair after Rogers asked him to help (on the advice of Culture Kitchen).

In addition to being ticked off that some “snarky kid” named Ryan Tate over at Gawker didn’t know who he or the MBA was, Mr. Cox seemed most upset by the suggestion that the organization was somehow interceding to help the Associated Press dictate terms of some kind to the blogosphere — which I guess would put him in the position of Neville Chamberlain in my earlier analogy about Hitler and the Munich Agreement. Cox has protested that he is merely trying to help Rogers Cadenhead in a dispute, nothing more, and that any clarification of “best practices” by AP that comes out of it is just gravy.

Mr. Cox’s heart may be in the right place, as poli-blogger Oliver Willis (a founding member of the MBA) and others have argued, and he may be trying to help bloggers get legal representation and educate themselves, which seems like a noble and well-meaning goal. No doubt he feels strongly about the issue because he himself was sued for something that appeared on his blog. But he probably also knows by now that the blogosphere is an unruly place, and one that doesn’t like organizations suddenly emerging that appear to speak for bloggers. For a taste of some of that, check out the Fisking of Mr. Cox that took place on the blog Making Light. Teresa Nielsen Hayden is not someone to mess with.

As for the AP itself, in the long run — as Dorian Benkoil and Jeff Jarvis have argued — the organization’s biggest problem is its own member papers and the disintermediation that is currently in the process of handing the agency’s own entrails to itself on a platter.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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