Thursday, September 28, 2006

The google dilemma

Google was recently in the Belgian court, fighting charges of copyright infringement. The charges were pressed by Copiepresse, an organisation which represents a number of newspapers in Belgium. The court ruled against google.
Google cried foul, arguing that showing the headline and a couple of lines of an article on its search engine could hardly be labelled as copyright infringement. They have even posted a blog on their official blogsite commenting on this.
I found this interesting because I feel that this is a problem that we are going to encounter time and again, in our increasingly online world. Right now, I dont think I am very clear as to what would constitute copyright infringement and what would not. For example, is it copyright infringement if I quote some website in my blog? I would definitely make sure that I attribute the quote to the website. But when you think about it, that is exactly what google news is doing. So,why exactly is it illegal?
Maybe it is time for government authorities the world over to sit down and figure out what is ok and what is not. We need a set of clear guidelines. Till then, internet users need to tread carefully and understand the fuzzy line between right and wrong.

LA Times - To cut or not to cut

LA Times has been in the news a lot lately. Its editor and publisher refused to carry out staff cuts ordered by the parent company. The Tribune company (which owns LA times) had gone in for budget and staff cuts just last year cutting hundreds of jobs. This time, however, the editor as well as publisher of LA Times stood their ground and simply refused to go along with the management. What's more, they even said so publicly; in their own newspaper to be precise. There is a very interesting article in the NY Times titled The Newspaper Publisher Who Said No to More Cuts .
While it is heartening to see an editor stand up for his newspaper, I wonder what the practical solution to this problem would be. The company is obviously going through some financial trouble that prompted them to take this decision. However, the editor's fears that further staff cuts will affect the quality of the newspaper is not unfounded either. So, in these difficult times for newspapers, what is the ideal response?
Should the company focus on boosting its circulation? Maybe trying to boost its online advertising revenues is a better option. But what would be a good strategy to do that? Should it alter its content to make it more appealing to the "market"? But there is a danger that the newspaper will completely lose its character by doing so.
Maybe the best option is patience. Newspaper owners should accept that the newspaper industry is going through a tough phase. Profit margins will fall while the newspaper makes the complete transition from the print version to the online version. As trends suggest, online advertising will pick up over time and help newspapers become profitable again.
Hopefully, newspapers will have the strength to survive so that they can see that day.

Friday, September 22, 2006

News, networks and information

Yesterday, I attended an extremely interesting discussion at MIT titled " News, Information and wealth of Networks." This was organised by the MIT communications forum.
The discussion was centered around a number of concepts that have been hot topics of discussion in our sessions as well- grassroots journalism, blogs, information networks, online communities etc. The two main speakers, Prof. Yochai Benkler from Yale and Dr. Henry Jenkins from MIT raised a number of interesting points.
Prof. Jenkins traced the change in information dissemination from a primarily top down approach to an increasing bottom-up approach. He observed a trend where a lot of knowledge is based on collective intelligence. He commented that we are living in a society where although nobody knows everything, everyone who knows something is willing to share it and add to the pool of information. Giving wikipedia as the best information of this phenomenon, he observed that there has been a perceptible tilt in power from big corporations and powerful media organisations to the common public.
He also said that large corporations earlier enjoyed a sense of power, being disseminators of information. However, corporations now actually take efforts to camouflage their messages to make them look like they originated at the grassroots( Example: Lonelygirl 15).
Answering a question a from a member of the audience, he clarified that the present phenomenon will certainly not mean the end of newspapers. He said that though blogs may package and repackage information, they are still dependant on newspapers and other mass media as the source of information. He said that as new media evolves, we will stabilise at a point where there is a healthy balance of mass media as well as participatory culture.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Blogs can mean big biz!

Most of the discussion on blogs is focussed on ideas such as freedom of expression, citizen journalists etc., but we dont usually look at blogs as a viable business venture. I came across an interesting feature on called Blogging for big bucks that wrote about blogs such as and which have managed to generate not just interest from viewers, but huge revenues as well. Both these ventures are now earning million dollar revenues!

While relies primarily on citizen journalists for their content, gets most its news from wire agencies or other news organisations. They rate their stories in various catagories such as "follow up", "obvious", " asinine", "silly" etc. . They carry readers' comments for all stories.
Both of these companies earn their revenues through online adverstising. Apparently more and companies are now investing in online advertising. According to the article:

"In recent months, big-name companies like Banana Republic and Cocal Cola have for the first time run ad campaigns on blogs, in the belief that blog communities often consist of concentrated numbers of the passionate and influential people all marketers want to reach. Intel bought its first blog ad in March; now all its ads run on blogs as well as traditional outlets. Says Thom Campbell, head of media strategy for Intel, "The audience on blogs is the cream of the crop.""
It would be interesting to see how this trend will rub off on online newspapers and help in making them profitable business ventures in their own right.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The real "truth"

The term "truth" is not easy to define. When any person makes a statement, it needs to be viewed in the context of his/her perspective, beliefs, inherent prejudices and other influences. Perhaps this fact bears more truth (no pun intended) in Journalism than in any other discipline. After all, the pen is still mightier than the sword!

With traditional media, the audience gets only a one-sided view of any situation. And this view is in line with with the reporters' own view as well as the publication's view. In conflict situations, publications usually toe the line of the government of their home country.

For example, according to an article in called a news revolution has begun,

"A study by the Cardiff School of Journalism found that 90 per cent of the BBC's references to Saddam Hussein's WMDs suggested he possessed them and that "spin from the British and US governments was successful in framing the coverage"."

Recently, when a series of train bomb blasts occurred in Mumbai, India's financial capital, all Indian newspapers unilaterally blamed Pakistan, based on reports from Indian investigating authorities. Meanwhile, most Pakistani newspapers, while condemning the blasts, attributed the blasts to "mischief-mongers" who wanted to create trouble in Indo-Pak relations.

With the rise of the internet, I wonder if we will see a significant change in this trend. The internet gives us access to different versions of any story more easily than ever before. Will the internet therefore actually enable the common man to get multiple views and take a more informed stand?

On the other hand, maybe the internet will have the exact opposite effect, with increased customization and individualisation of news, people will develop increasingly polarised views because they will constantly be fed the kind of information they seek.

So, which way will this media revolution take us? Perhaps only time can tell..

Monday, September 11, 2006

Will blogs make journalists redundant?

The very fact that a class in journalism has now included blogging as a part of the curriculum underlines the importance of this medium even from a journalistic point of view. Although I have never written any blogs in my life, there is enough evidence to prove that Blogs are well on their way to becoming the most important communication tool for general readers, businesses, journalists..just about anybody!

That said, it would be to simplistic to assume that the rise of blogs means the end of newspapers or other mass media. Newspapers play a very significant role in information dissemination and are often the opinion leaders for their readers. While a blog may afford its creater with all the freedom and convenience in the world, it lacks one important luxury that a newspaper enjoys- credibility. The feature that has made blogging so popular is also its biggest pitfall. The blogs are completely unedited and therefore you aare just forced to take the word of the writer without any real means to verify it. While this may be just as true in the case of newspapers, maybe our society is conditioned to accept everything (or most things) printed in the newspaper as being true! While public attitudes might change over time, I really doubt whether blogs will ever dethrone newpapers as the most reliable source of information. This is specially true when it comes to getting news on serious topics such as health, business, politics etc.