In his wide-ranging address to the Lowy Institute Media Award dinner earlier this month, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson took umbrage with Google, Facebook and LinkedIn, which he termed 'distributionists'.
These companies, Thomson argued, have ushered in an 'age of content distribution' which was 'hostile to investment in reporters and reporting':
For the distributionists do indeed have powerful distribution channels, Google and Facebook, and pretenders like LinkedIn, which is spam central. None of them actually create content, and they certainly have little intention of paying for it, but they do redistribute the content created by others – they would argue that such redistribution is a natural extension of their role as social networks. I would argue that much of the redistribution is an unnatural act. But there are broader issues that are still unfolding for media companies, who are themselves struggling to profit from their news and other content, while the distributionists are helping themselves to that content, coopting and corralling audiences and consciously devaluing brands. The supposed idealism of these companies is in stark contrast to their actual behavior. That Google’s newly conceived parent company is to be called Alphabet has itself created a range of delicious permutations: A is for Avarice, B is for Bowdlerize, through to K for Kleptocracy, P for Piracy and Z for Zealotry...
...More relevant to our discussion is the digital divot; the deficit in reporting resources created by the egregious aggregation of news by distributors for whom provenance is an inconvenience and who are contemptuous of copyright. The words Intellectual Property don’t appear in the Google alphabet. Without proper recognition, without proper remuneration, well-resourced reporting will be ever more challenged. When I arrived in Beijing, many a US newspaper had China correspondents – now some of those papers no longer exist in printed form. Mismanagement played a role, as did journalistic hubris, but the digital age has been hostile to investment in reporters and reporting. Why pay professionals when you have UGC, user-generated content? And why pay when you can purloin?
The address prompted a considerable amount of coverage and reaction from figures such as Mumbrella's Miranda Ward, internet venture capitalist David Pakman, and media academic and commentator Jeff Jarvis, who wrote:
[News distributors] didn’t create this “divot.” News publishers who didn’t manage to stay ahead of digital did. And besides, who said that having a single correspondent to cover, say, Asia, as some newspapers did, was ever adequate or sensible. Now we can hear many voices from around the world. That is a better system.
In a letter to The Australian today entitled 'Google hates piracy too', Google Australia Managing Director Maile Carnegie objected to Thomson's distinction between user-generated content and professionally generated content:
In a colourful speech delivered at the Lowy Institute Media Awards, and reported on in The Australian, News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson had some clever language about technology and journalism (“Google a pirate: News chief ”, 14/8).
The digital divot he describes positions user-generated content against what he calls premium content. But his definition of premium content seems admirably simple: anything produced by a traditional news organisation. Might I suggest a broader definition?
Australians have shown that anyone capable of producing compelling content — premium or otherwise — can live off their talents. We’ve developed algorithms to allow copyright holders to control their content on YouTube so they can chose to block uploads, or they can chose to make money off re-use of their content.
Meanwhile, our search engine points people to the original sources behind news stories, and to the news stories themselves. We hate piracy as much as Thomson does. And we remove hundreds of millions of links that point to infringing content every year. But none of that is news. We have been doing this for years.
What is news is anyone in Australia capable of producing a great story, video or movie should surely have access to the same global audience, the same copyright controls, and even the same advertisers as more traditional news organisations.
Even if Thomson doesn’t consider these people as premium, millions of Australians do, and so do some of the world’s largest advertisers. It is not either/or. It is both and more. And since we so enjoy his speeches, may we suggest Thomson would be a natural on YouTube?
Photo by Flickr user Long Zheng.