GateHouse-NYT deal: A bad precedent

It’s going to take some time to think through the implications of the settlement (PDF link) announced today between the New York Times Co. and GateHouse Media, over the issue of NYT’s Boston.com site aggregating content from local sites belonging to GateHouse, but my first instinct is that it is almost unrelentingly bad. Why? Because while the settlement is not a legally-binding precedent — the one piece of what might be called good news — it still involves the New York Times voluntarily refraining from what many would argue is perfectly defensible behaviour. As Joshua Benton notes in his post at the Nieman Journalism Lab, that could well embolden other publications to launch similar cases, on the assumption that if the NYT caved then someone else might too.

The Times tries to argue that this settlement does nothing to change the way it approaches linking to or even quoting from external sources on its websites, but that clearly isn’t the case at all. It completely changes the way the paper does that, but only when the content involves a GateHouse website. The NYT claims that it will continue to link to and quote from external sources whenever it wants, but will no longer do so with GateHouse content (under the agreement it can continue to link, but can no longer aggregate content in an automated way, and has agreed not to quote from a GateHouse site).

(for the full post, see the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Are you a friend of mesh?

As part of the lead-up to mesh 2009 — taking place at MaRS on April 7th and 8th — we’re pleased to announce a new “micro-sponsorship” campaign that we’re calling “Friends of mesh.” We’ve had a number of requests over the years from both individuals and companies who aren’t interested in a traditional sponsorship arrangement with the conference, but who would like to be able to show their support for mesh in a smaller way, so we came up with FOM. All you have to do is register through InviteRight and sign up as Friend of mesh, and for $1,500 you get a ticket to the conference, your logo on our home page and on screen at the event, plus a pass to an invitation-only VIP social event — and of course the eternal gratitude of myself and the other four mesh co-founders 🙂

Papers are healthy — owners, not so much

Amid all the doom and gloom about newspapers laying off staff and closing bureaus and even — as in the case of Tribune Co., parent company of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and Baltimore Sun — filing for bankruptcy, there has been very little attention paid to one of the main reasons for those cutbacks and business failures. And I’m not talking about a decline in journalistic principles or the sudden departure of advertisers for other online properties, or anything as apocalyptic as that. One of the main reasons has very little to do with journalism and everything to do with the world of mergers and acquisitions.

That reason, as several astute observers have pointed out (including former newspaper exec Alan Mutter at his blog Reflections of a Newsosaur, and most recently a commenter at the political blog Talking Points Memo) is debt. In the case of Tribune Co. — acquired by corporate raider Sam “Grave Dancer” Zell — and several other major newspapers as well, acquisitions and corporate financing have created the conditions that led to much of the pain they have inflicted on the papers they own. Tribune Co. has built up a staggering debt load of $13-billion, and and chains like McClatchy have accumulated their own unwieldy debts over the past few years, by acquiring newspapers from family firms and smaller chains.

(read the rest of this post at the Nieman Journalism Lab blog)

Why Apple might be better off without Steve

I know there are probably already nasty emails on their way to my inbox based solely on the headline of this post. Apple better off without Steve? How is that possible? It’s difficult to even think about the iconic consumer electronics company — now so much more than just a computer maker — without thinking about Steve Jobs. Apple is Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs is Apple. That’s one of the main reasons why so many people (me included) were so concerned that the company come clean about Jobs’ health over the past few months — because he is so intertwined with the company in people’s minds and certainly in investors’ minds. Every time he appears in a photo looking gaunt, the share price tumbles. How could the company possibly be better off without a man who is a strong CEO, visionary genius and celebrity spokesman all rolled into one?

For the record, I’m not saying that Steve Jobs should cut his ties to Apple, and I realize that speculating about his departure is going to be seen as in bad taste by many people, given his personal health issues. I wish him nothing but the best, and I hope he is around for many years to come. There is no question that Jobs’ vision and laser-like focus on usability and value have worked miracles on Apple’s business model and its share price over the past few years — miracles that many seasoned industry observers never imagined were even possible. So how could not having him around be a good thing for the company? Just stay with me for a minute.

Let me put it this way: While Apple is a successful and widely-admired company with some excellent products, in many ways it is also pretty close to being a cult, as more than one person has argued (with the latest being Dan “Fake Steve Jobs” Lyons, who writes in his recent Newsweek column about how the company is treated with kid gloves by most of the mainstream media). This is hardly surprising, when you think about how low Apple had fallen just a few short years ago. Anyone who can take a company like that and turn it into a market-leading powerhouse with a stock-market value of $75 billion is going to inspire not just admiration but an almost religious devotion.

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Me: Joining the Nieman Journalism Lab

Anyone who has followed my posts here for any length of time knows that I’m passionate about the future of journalism, so it gives me great pleasure to announce that I’ve joined the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard as a contributing blogger. My posts will be showing up there several times a week, along with the posts of two other journalist/bloggers I’ve come to admire: Tim Windsor, a former online VP at the Baltimore Sun who also blogs at Zero Percent Idle, and former newspaper publisher Martin Langeveld, who also has a personal blog called News After Newspapers. I’d like to thank Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, for giving me this opportunity.

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