Monday, March 26, 2007

 

One step Newspapers could take to be Wikipedia-friendly

I stumbled across this passage in a post Doc Searls wrote last Saturday:
1) Stop giving away the news and charging for the olds. Okay, give away the news, if you have to, on your website. There's advertising money there. But please, open up the archives. Stop putting tomorrow's fishwrap behind paywalls. (Dean Landsman was the first to call this a "fishwrap fee".) Writers hate it. Readers hate it. Worst of all, Google and Yahoo and Technorati and Icerocket and all your other search engines ignore it. Today we see the networked world through search engines. Hiding your archives behind a paywall makes your part of the world completely invisilble [sic]. If you open the archives, and make them crawlable by search engine spiders, your authority in your commmunity will increase immeasurably. (This point is proven by Santa Barbara vs. Fort Myers, both with papers called News-Press, one with contents behind a paywall and the other wide open.) Plus, you'll open all that inventory to advertising possibilities. And I'll betcha you'll make more money with advertising than you ever made selling stale editorial to readers who hate paying for it. (And please, let's not talk about Times Select. Your paper's not the NY Times, and the jury is waaay out on that thing.)

(After some thought, I stripped out the links in this quote. You'll just have to follow the link and read his entire post, heh heh.)

One of the frustrating things about trying to provide decent sources for any Wikipedia article about contemporary (or near-contemporary) events is that many newspapers restrict access to their articles that are more than 90 days old. (The New York Times archives stories less than a week old.) To write any article, one needs facts, facts need a citation, citations need to be easily verified, but source material from these newspaper websites vanishes behind a pay wall after a very short time. I don't know of any newspaper website that also provides information on when and where these articles were first published, so it's just a waste of time to use them for research.

This practice prevents newspapers from exploiting the niche they currently have: a generalist that creates and maintains a collection of articles, in some cases potentially stretching back decades. One Internet-savvy specialist, with enough determination, can always provide a better understanding about one specific subject than any newspaper; but someone has to provide the information on the broader picture, create the data pile for Wikipedians, bloggers, and other online researchers to mine and link to. The good stuff will be brought to the top -- where it can attract the advertising these publications need to survive. The bad stuff will stay on the hard drives, where there is little or no cost to keep them.

Lastly, I don't understand the profit motive in charging to access old news. To repeat what Doc Searls wrote, the labor and expenses needed to create these old stories have been paid for, and anything a newspaper can make from recycling them through another audience -- especially when the labor needed to sort the wheat from the chaff is all volunteer -- is just more profit. Of course, as with many business concepts involving the Internet if a new idea makes too much sense, the last few Internet bubbles have shown there might be something wrong with it; maybe there is a good reason for charging readers to access old news.

Geoff

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Comments:
check out the Myth 4 in 10 newspaper myths deconstructed, by Oliver Reichenstein
 
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