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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 9, 2012 @ 4:33 pm

    New media vs old media… a phoney war

    Hugh Linehan

    I spent most of Monday at the ‘Media Diversity; Why does it matter?’ conference in Dublin. In general, the quality of contributions was pretty high: most impressive for me was John Lloyd’s perspective on the challenges facing media in the context of the UK hacking scandal and its changed role in the era of the internet, but Karin Wahl-Jorgensen’s warning of the dangers posed by online personalisation was also thought-provoking, as was Aphra Kerr’s direct challenge to the current media monoculture in Ireland. And Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte’s brusque delivery and rapid departure didn’t obscure the fact that his speech contained some intriguing pointers about the Government’s plans in this area.

    However, most reports of the event, whether in newspapers, online sevices, or conversations on Twitter, focused overwhelmingly on the comments made by Alan Crosbie, chairman of the company which owns the Examiner and Sunday Busines Post newspapers. Those comments were certainly eyecatching:  Crosbie’s contention that there was a ”threat to humanity posed by the tsunami of unverifiable data, opinion, libel and vulgar abuse in new media” was guaranteed to get some reaction. But they didn’t fairly reflect the span and depth of the issues addressed over the course of the day.

    Such is life, you may say. It’s inevitable that news organisations will latch onto the most colourful quote. And Laura Slattery, for The Irish Times, and Christine Bohan at The Journal both gave some flavour of some of the other contributions.

    But the focus on Crosbie’s comments, the comments themselves and the inevitable snarkfest which followed on Twitter and elsewhere showed up once again the depressing shallowness of the ‘debate’, such as it is, about how media is transforming and what implications that transformation might have for our society and culture.

    The same phenomenon could be seen around opinion columns by Fintan O’Toole and Conor Brady published this week in The Irish Times. As it happens, I didn’t agree with some of the content of these pieces, and thought they illustrated the conceptual hurdles faced by people coming from a print background when faced with the glorious, turbulent, messy, liberating force which is the Internet. But those faults paled into insignificance beside the glib, ill-informed nature of much of the reaction.

    Is it possible to have a coherent debate about new media without descending into a sterile ‘new vs old’ argument? It seems to be possible in the UK and US, where journalists, bloggers, theoreticians and others are engaged in some really interesting, provocative ongoing discussions. Unfortunately, Ireland still seems to be several years behind the curve.

    Note: a couple of people asked me to post the opinion articles I wrote for the newspaper recently on RTE’s birthday and on the proposed new public service content charge. So I have.

    • Brian Foley says:

      The market always wins.

      While I agree with Alan Crosbie to some extent about the ‘vulgar’ noise on the Web, the aim of newspapers and media in general should not be to fight the overwhelming volume of crap but to rise above it. There will always be a market for quality and news will never go out of fashion. (simplistic, I know, but look at http://www.mediastorm.com for a shining light of journalistic briliance.)

      Any attempts to control how people access the Web will fail and it’s impossible not to think people like Alan are trying to fight a raging inferno with a fire extingusher. The Guardian over in the UK is on an unstoppable journey to digital-only publications, which is the journey all ‘old’ media must make – or die. Calls for a Government funded intervention are laughable, while it may work in the short-term time will get us in the end. People in their twenties and younger don’t read hard copy newspapers – the future, quite simply, has to be embraced.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Hi Brian. Thanks for commenting. I broadly agree with your main points. I do think that we need to understand that traditional media face two challenges. Technological change challenges journalists to explore fundamentally new ways of conceptualising and carrying out their work, which is very exciting (but also threatening for some). At the same time, there’s the challenge to the traditional business model which supports the media companies where those journalists are employed. And that’s a tough nut to crack. I love the Guardian’s digital content, but have you seen their accounts lately?

    • Senan says:

      I suggest you dig a little deeper to find the debate online of Crosbie’s remarks then just looking at twitter and facebook. Just like down the pub you will have crass and low opinions but you will also find intelligent debate. I was quite shocked by Fintan’s column as it showed him to be very ignorant of the internet.
      This seems to be reflected in the opinions of other “established” columnists in the print media. Maybe they should reflect on there own narrow minded views of “new media” and in some cases their egos. Maybe an injection of fresh blood would help?

    • RPE McCarthy says:

      John Lloyd is an interesting guy. He is an editor for the intelligentsia between his role at the FT and at the best (imo) periodical on these islands – Prospect.

      His almost tyranical devotion along with people like David Goodhart to providing interesting, provocative opinion that eschews the hyperbole that clipboard journalists / commentators (including some of the regulars in your pages) come out with. I think Fintan O’Toole’s column this week was the best that I can remember him writing in years and it is one that I am certain could be extensively serialised with only minor tweaking. Comment of the highest eschalon.

      That is the challenge for print (ink or online) – how do you make a crust in a den of thieves. There will be an answer and I am certain – positive – that journalism, quality journalism, still has a place – but it will not be what we have seen to date and investigative journalism is sadly becoming extinct.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Hi Senan. Thanks for that. Maybe you could help me by pointing to where that intelligent debate is happening, because I’ve clearly failed to find it.

      Thanks for your comment RPE. As the answer to the question of how to make a crust emerges, I’m slightly less pessimistic than you about the future of investigative journalism. Media has never just been about the bottom line: most of the UK broadsheets are either trusts or subsisdised by other, more commercial ventures. As the old ad and circulation revenue models decline, they’re likely to be replaced by more complex financing. For example, there are interesting developments in the US in the non-profit area.

    • mike dee says:

      I think the media in general, and may politicians and so called leaders of society do not sense the potential monumental impacts of the internet. I feel that its equivalent to asking people in Mainz in 1473 and polling people on the invention of movable type, by Gutenberg, and asking them do they think (a) the invention of movable type will undermine the authority of the Catholic church, (b) stimulate the proliferation and availability of information, (c) facilitate the development of the understanding of nature (i.e. what we now know as modern science), (d) fuel a reformation. This scenario is equivalent to where we know with the internet. I think it is fair to say that the internet is as transforming, revolutionary (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) and consequences as unforeseen as those of the printing press.
      I think the attempt to maintain the status quo of “old school” print media business models and practices, and for that matter all types of media (music, film and literary), is inherently incompatible with the way people access information, and will access information.
      All though it is encouraging to hear people like you from the media who seem to get the new model.

    • Conor Brady says:

      Alright Hugh, so what bits of my contribution did you not agree with? I thought I gave credit where due to new media that genuinely try to creat new journalism and bring ‘added value’ to the marketplace of ideas. But I don’t condone theft. And I still don’t see how we can fund reporters, for example, in crisis zones – equip them, providefor their safety etc – if the revenue streams shut down.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Hi Conor. I agreed with your description of the current state of the industry. However, while I strongly believe that copyright infringements should be pursued by content creators, I don’t agree that piracy/theft/etc is at the heart of the crisis of our traditional business model, and I also honestly believe that the internet and other forms of new technology offer the opportunity for new and better forms of journalism. It was difficult to see Alan Crosbie’s speech as anything other than a plea for the protection of the status quo. And that, in my view, is not a viable option.

    • Pharrell says:

      It’s patronizing to suggest there’s no intelligent debate going on just because you’re not informed about it. One of the things that old media is failing on is establishing and creating relationships with users and to be dismissive of them will doom your business to failure.

    • sf ca writer says:

      From 2012 how about the media listens to the following request:
      Show me the quality, show me now, show me live.
      And yes I want to see the data and a link to sources.
      Doesn’t apply to me, I’m a poet

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Hi Pharrell. Surely if you know where this intelligent debate is going on, the right thing to do is to reference and link to it to support your assertion.

    • If it is quality above quantity we are after then how about this description in today’s Irish Times of an election candidate buying fuel at the pumps.

      “Man in Gallagher row received nearly €3,000 from McGuinness”.

      The article says that the man “benefited from payments during the campaign from Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness” but it didn’t state so clearly that McGuinness also benefited from €3,000 worth of fuel he got for the money.

      It is all so silly and it certainly does McGuinness no harm.

    • Michael Walsh says:

      The problem is right there in your first line.

      I followed your link to “Media Diversity; Why does it matter?” expecting to see a place that had started the conversation and had created the space to allow it to flourish.

      Instead it’s a static blog page with comments closed.

      This is like having a party and asking everyone who turns up to be quiet, leave early and be thankful they were deigned to be allowed in the presence of their betters.


      If you are going to complain about Irish people not participating (unlike their US or UK cousins – patently wrong but we’ll come back to that) then you must start the conversation, create the space for the discussion to continue and go out and invite all those interested, to participate.

      Surely media people don’t need this pointed out to them?

      It’s not about having a static web page with PDFs and closing it for comments, which then forces others to go out to social network sites to try and see which talking points got picked up and which ones got ignored.

      It’s about having the videos of the session online, an online forum for discussing each session alongside this, widgets feeding the conversations back out to the social network sites and also pulling back in the spin-off conversations occurring there.

      As for having a greater discussion in the UK or US sphere, I have to disagree. Most of the conversations online, irrespective of where they occur geographically, get boiled down to a simple dynamic – Old Media: You’re Stealing Our Content. New Media: Information Wants To Be Free.

      Both of these statements are wrong.

      What Old Media is railing against is the destruction of their business model – which was predicated on a physical product, a physical distribution system and a geographically-defined rights licensing and monetization system.

      What New Media is defending is a new digital ecosystem – which has low barriers to entry, is is global in reach, deals in digital versions whose marginal cost is zero and has no clearly defined rights clearance or business model (other than let Google be your gatekeeper).

      Where these two worlds collide is in the move from physical to digital content. The Old Media model relies on geographical rights agreements, enforced via copyright, to control distribution. Once their content goes digital, then it becomes available to the global digital distribution system – and it’s here that Old and New media collide.

      Old Media wants to keep it’s traditional business model but avail of the marginal cost of zero of the digital product. This entails seeking to get people to enforce analogue copyright laws in a digital world – a classic example being the BBC iPlayer which is GeoIP restricted due to geographical rights restrictions – but is easily accessible globally with a UK VPN.

      What Media, Old and New, needs is a global digital licensing system – but the vested interests in the individual country’s collection societies hate this idea. Attending CISAC’s Global Copyright Summit – http://www.copyrightsummit.com/ – was hugely illuminating in seeing how intractable the problem of the application of analogue copyright law to a digital distribution system is.

      So, in summary, you can’t complain about how the message of the day got garbled when the actual communication tool was so poor – but the argument will always return to its fundamental issue – how to build a digital business model?

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Hi Michael. Thanks for a very lucid contribution. I absolutely agree with your first point about failing to create the space for conversation.

      I’m not so sure about your ‘boiling down’ of the binary Old/New Media argument. Yes, the traditional business model is irrevocably broken. But when I look at the debates going on among American journalists, for example, on Poynter.org or Niemanlab.org,, I don’t see much harping on about ‘they’re stealing our content’. Perhaps that’s the argument being made somewhere at a corporate level by some traditional content creating companies, but I don’t see it coming from the executives of the New York Times, Washington Post, etc.

      But you’re right. Your last question is the one we’re all trying to answer.

    • Michael Walsh says:

      Hi Hugh,

      Bad news I’m afraid! One of the main stories currently on the Niemanlab site:
      “… In the suit, the AP alleges Meltwater used their content verbatim, without a license, for their own profit. It’s a copyright case, with Meltwater accused of stealing content and customers from the AP, as well as “hot news” misappropriation. ”

      More importantly – I worked with the BBC during the gestation and painful birth period of the iPlayer (hence my choice of it as an example earlier). Lots of discussion happened on the internal social network tool – Talk.Gateway – about the ins-and-outs of how such a product would work. The initial choice, was a download-only Windows DRM’ed model. I had great discussions with Tony Ageh, the executive in charge of delivering the iPlayer, about how this was the wrong thing to do. He fully agreed but felt doing the wrong thing for the right reasons (to get something out there) was his only choice at that stage. Many millions wasted and much time lost later the BBC went with the streaming Flash model – which had been declared impossible at the start by all the legal people because of rights.

      The reason why the change came about was because the BBC was being challenged robustly by those who were licence fee payers but were excluded from the offering because of their choice in OS. It also became more patently clear to execs, once they had the wrong thing in place, that the technology going in a different direction – lots of phones, media players, games consoles, satellite and terrestrial PVRs, etc implementing a non-Windows OS in their devices meant that the choice of a Windows DRM’ed model was disastrous – as it allowed Microsoft to vertically own the broadcast chain.

      None of this was news to those of us campaigning for an open standards approach. The constant battle though was with the legal people who insisted that any new innovation was completely against existing copyright laws and agreements – so no matter how enlightened the advocates are, the path of least resistance for any exec is to go with the existing legal opinion – no matter how much it flies in the face of technological innovations.

      Tony Ageh is now the BBC Controller of Archive Development and has taken on the Herculean task of trying to clear rights for the BBC Archive. I get asked by the BBC to go over to London occasionally to help shake up the thinking about this – as the entrenched vested interests and the legal opinion makes trying to do anything a near impossible task.

      The NY Times going the limited paywall route, Murdoch’s Times/Sunday Times going fully paywalled, RTE, the BBC, HULU implementing GeoIP – they all want to implement a form of physical distribution on a digital product. It’s doomed to failure – but it lets the execs feel like they’re doing something.

      What they are missing is that the content, once it goes digital, is merely a collection of 1s-and-0s and what the important thing is is the relationship between content provider and end-user. A classic example of how the BBC has completely missed this is the way they’ve integrated the iPlayer into their webpages – but you can end up with a weird situation where one set of 1s-and-0s (the text) is fine but the other set of 1s-and-0s (the video) is blocked:
      I can guarantee you the BBC has global rights to that video but the system doesn’t allow it be set to anything other than UK only.

      So instead of a strong relationship, you end up engendering an adversarial one. And that in turn encourages people to seek ways to see things as others can see them at that moment in time – the whole point of a global distribution system!

      Digital business models can, and will be built – but only when the execs start to recognize they are in the relationship business, not the content business.

    • The “New Media” versus “Old Media” debate is completely the wrong discussion to be having. The question that needs a solution is the matter of building revenue streams that support institutions or structures that can carry forward the practices of creation. That these be commercial in character is not necessary at all, and that is admitted to whenever NNI eyes license fee money. Alan Crosibie’s remarks are great to hear, if only to see him come out of his cave and decry the building of cabins on his hunting lands. It’s the outcomes that “old media” can be justifiable be proud of that need to be preserved, not “the print industry” that Conor Brady refers to. The print industry? The cock crowed on that one some time ago. The problem is carrying professional standards onto a web only model. The utterances of those thinking that Twitter users and Polticis.ie posters need to be held to the standards of the Irish Times reporting are crackers! It’s as though a Bishop is railing against people discussing the weather in taverns and not doing so in Latin as the Bishops might.
      Global licensing is sadly highly unlikely as long as we labour under the Berne Convention, TRIPs as the stand and we draft treaties like ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. This IP infrastructure is distorting possible innovations and reform badly:
      -Copyright Term Limits are ratcheted up due to competition between countries due the reciprocity principles (Get term increased in EU and the US comes under pressure to match or vice versa, it will never go down even when it dilutes the investment in creation, displaces current creators and locks content away as orphan works);
      -We cannot introduce a more innovative set of exceptions because of these treaties (exceptions must meet the triple test, US courts are moving further towards fair use being allowed even where some economic loss is caused to the copyright holder, this probably breaks the rules they enforced on the rest of the world).
      -We cannot require the registration of copyrights due the rules on formalities. There was a good case for say an Irish artist to say it was onerous to have to register a copyright in the US as well as Ireland a century ago. That is not onerous a century later; it’s piss easy to do, formalities should be reintroduced with requirements to re-register the copyright as was the case until 78 in the US.
      A legal world where everything is considered automatically to merit the protection of copyright protection as original expression is at complete odds with the digital world but also with the principles that have underlain journalism since the outset and the very reason for copyright’s emergence. The Belfast Newsletter scooped everyone in 1776 when they got their hands on the US Declaration of Independence before it reached Court. Today that could be a copyright case. Copyright’s only duty is to give rise to Commerce and thus encourage Creation. It’s been hijacked by distributional intermediaries and has to be radically redesigned to encourage creation, global licensing that reflects the reach of creators is one necessary reform.
      The first time the term “piracy” was used against the consumer of information instead of a producer was when those who hadn’t paid for a radio license were “listening in”. The internet is “listening in” on a massive scale and the world of Terms of Service, T&Cs, EULAs, 3 Strikes etc is not a re-instantiation of Copyright as it stood before where redress could be sought for a proven infringement of a principle that ran parallel to the economics of distribution, but potentially a whole new world of content consumption regulation. I don’t think that’s tenable in a liberal society. I highly recommend reading Adrian John’s book Piracy if you haven’t already, really puts copyright in its proper context as development of practical enforcement and political economy, and not natural justice.

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