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By Thomas Baekdal - May 2012

The Bringer Of News is a Thing Of The Past

You have to be the creator of news. Expand the stories, find the connection between stories and be the source. You can build on a quote, but you cannot republish or 'paraphrase'. And you cannot steal the direct connection.

For most of the history of the newspaper, the role of the newspaper was to be the bringer of news. The actions of the reporters where to find news and reprint it for everyone else to see.

For that reason, most journalists believe that whenever they see something, they have the right to reprint it. That's their purpose. To be the bringer of news.

Other people, brands, businesses, and organizations thought the same thing. Whenever they did something, they expected and even hoped that a journalist would come by and take and republish it to the public.

The problem is just that, in the connected world, this whole business model is collapsing. Today, everyone can be a journalist, and everyone is. And reprinting what someone else did is no longer acceptable.

The newspapers no longer have the right to take someone else's work and reprint it for their own profit. That is copyright-theft but, more importantly, it is connection theft. You are stealing the direct connection between the creator of the work and the people it connects with. That is far worse than copyright theft.

One person, Duane Lester, had one of his articles stolen by a local newspaper and decided to confront them about it. It makes for a spectacular video.


The most telling thing is the reaction of the editor. In his mind, he went out to the public (the internet) found some news, and decided to bring it in his newspaper. 20 years ago, this would have been perfectly acceptable. It was even expected of him. That was what newspapers did!

But today he is a thief, and he simply doesn't understand that. Instead, it looks like the editor feels that it is his rights that are being violated. And after not wanting to take up the fight on camera, he reluctantly signs a check and tells Duane to get his ass out of his building.

This is not just a problem with traditional print papers. Recently we heard about how The Next Web did the same thing. You can read the story here, and the editor's response here.

Again, the editor fully believed that he had to right to do it.

Harrison Weber (our author) decided to paraphrase and clearly didn't do a particularly good job. I don't however think that it warrants an all out plagiarism attack.

Paraphrasing is just another word for stealing someone else's work and then hiding it by changing a few words here and there. And the editor of The Next Web is far from alone in thinking this is acceptable behavior.

Clashing cultures

This is the culture clash between the traditional and the connected worlds. In the traditional world, you are the bringer of news. In the connected world, you are a copyright and connection thief.

Duane's example was between a blogger and a newspaper, a case that is easy to understand. But think of the many similar cases between brands and newspapers.

Today, many brands spend more time communicating directly with their customers, instead of issuing press releases. Which means that brands are just like bloggers: Independent publishers of content. They publish content on their direct customer channels - their blogs, Facebook and Google+ pages.

When brands publish an article to their fans, they do so with the expectation of strengthening their social relationship and reach. If a newspaper then comes by and reprints it on the newspaper's site, it is stealing the content and the direct connection.

Most brands today still think of social media as a form marketing, and, as such, they don't mind when other people 'steal' their content because it gives them free exposure.

But it won't take long before the brands will realize that when newspapers take their content, they not only steal the content and the connection, they also disrupt the call to action - and that is a disaster.

This culture clash, from newspapers having the 'God given right to report on other people's content', to the connected world where they don't have that right at all, is not going to end well.

Already today we see the battle between the bloggers and the newspapers (which goes both ways), but I fully expect the first brand vs newspaper battle to emerge in 2012. At some point in the months ahead, a big popular brand will get so fed up with a newspaper taking content from their direct customer channels (blog, Facebook page, Google+ page) and sue the newspaper for copyright theft.

Imagine if a big company like H&M sued a big newspaper for lifting an article of H&M's Facebook page. It will happen, maybe not by H&M, but by some other big company. And it will happen soon.

When it does, it will question the whole existence and future role of the newspaper. Brands will realize that it is more valuable to keep the connection than to lose it for a short-term gain of free exposure.

My advice to you is simple:

To brands: Start calculating the impact (positive/negative) of other people republishing your posts - including when newspapers reprints or paraphrases one of your stories. What is the exposure vs conversion rate? Do you win or lose? Are you gaining a new audience, or are you just giving a newspaper free content that they can profit on without getting anything useful in return?

To Newspapers: Stop being the bringer of news. The business model is based on the disconnected world, and the future trend patterns all lead to a culture clash that you can only lose. In the connected world, everyone is a creator with a direct connection to their audience. Exposure happens via sharing, not republishing.

You have to be the creator of news. Expand the stories, find the connection between stories and be the source. You can build on a quote, but you cannot republish or 'paraphrase'. And you cannot steal the direct connection.

The future looks brighter than ever, but the past isn't. Being the bringer of news is a business model of the past. Change it!


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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