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Judge Posner is a respected law and economics thinker, but I think he is a bit off on this one. It is a form of protectionism for the market of information. Basically he endorses the idea of extending copyright law such that newspapers could block bloggers and others on the web from linking to their content. Then once the information is protected newspapers could feasibly charge subscriptions to online content.

Below the fold we'll see why this doesn't work.

The market of information, like all markets, does not really lend itself well to protectionism. The far better long term solution is to always adapt to changes in the market so that you can remain constantly competitive.

Obviously the market of information's most prized asset is speed. Newspapers are probably the worst mode of information for that asset. But this has been true ever since radios became prominent in every home. News will break on radio, television, and now especially the internet first. But we must always keep in mind that the market for information is not solely based on speed of information. This is how newspapers have survived TV and radio and they will have to adjust and adapt again to survive the internet.

What are other commodities that are important in the information market? Accuracy, quality of analysis, topical interest, etc etc. On these fronts newspapers still have something to offer.

Newspapers, theoretically, are the branch of information media most trusted by the other branches of the information market and the public. Bloggers, and I love blogs and the internet, are often perceived to be and are ideological to the point of not being completely trustworthy. Some blogs are attempting to change this perception, and are working to become more ideologically balanced, but it is safe to say for now that blogs are usually speaking to a certain audience of a particular political persuasion. It is advocacy. And it is true that they link often to print media sources online. This of course does hurt the newspaper industry in that it means they can't charge fees for online content and basically seem to be churning out content for bloggers. Free linking to content does mean that no newspaper can charge online and there is no incentive to purchase papers. But we must also keep in mind that linking to papers is free advertising of the paper. It is possible that people follow the link, like the paper, and become readers...maybe even subscribers. Not to mention the fact that by linking a blogger is showing the disparity between the two sides. Bloggers paraphrase and add additional information to suit their purposes (which is legit and the role of the blog and the internet), but at the same time this is contrasted to the newspaper article which theoretically for competitive newspapers is more measured, and professional.

Television, more than any other niche in the information market, is visual. This is why TV always has to the split screen of the two talking heads. It is a visual reminder of the opposing sides. The flash graphics, the weighty introduction music, etc. TV is combative about news and has to be. It also has to feed the 24 hour news beast which requires lots of fighting and bells and whistles. Again there is a place for television and it isn't going away. But again newspapers have survived television and have actually benefited from it in comparison because it shows where newspapers can offer something TV cannot. TV has also given newspaper journalists and publications more credibility because TV news has so frequently used them on air and offered free advertising to their publications.

Further, we can't forget to mention the potentially disastrous ramifications of extending copyright law such that it applies to even linking to and discussing articles produced by others. There is no way to apply it just to papers and as such it would restrict the flow of information to a very low drip. In an information age that would cripple the US.

So how do papers survive?

  1. Adapt to the market and your strengths. They have to focus on producing the quality analysis and information from vetted articles produced by professional journalists committed to getting it right. Where papers thrive will be where they offer this type of information. It isn't fast like the net or flashy like television, but it can still be a valuable commodity.
  1. Adjust their supply to the demand. GM was making more cars than they could possibly sell. Newspapers are producing more content then required. Very few papers should be dailies anymore in this market. Weeklies should be the norm with updates online. If the updates are particularly special then they could probably charge a small fee to get people to read it due to the decreased supply of the information.
  1. Adapt to the demand and change content. A small weekly paper that focuses just on that area will do better than a small daily paper trying to get locals to pay to read what they see on TV and on the internet. Give them information about the city council, the chicken that gave birth to a live chick down the road, the local spelling bee winner...etc etc. As TV and the internet get bigger they are expanding what they cover to national areas which frees up papers to cover the local things that matter most to locals. As for big dailies like NYT and WSJ they need to focus more on analysis and in depth investigative reporting of issues that TV and the blogs rarely have the resources and time to do.

You can do all of this without trying to expand copyright law into a protection racket for newspapers.

Originally posted to Common Cents on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:15 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    by Common Cents on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:15:39 AM PDT

    •  It's already happened on a local level (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bubbanomics, Common Cents

      As a native Houstonian, I was saddened to see the shape that our local free institution, The Houston Press, was in.  The Houston Press is a weekly free newspaper that covers local stories, mostly human interest fighting for the little guy and the ins and outs of local politics.  The paper now is about 1/4 as heavy as it used to be with much fewer articles and features.

      Snarka Snarka Snarka!

      by Hunter Huxley on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:24:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  This economic time is also a problem. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bubbanomics, Hunter Huxley

        All industry is hurting so I think papers should be careful in how drastic they change things in response to this crisis.  

        by Common Cents on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:27:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  the LA Times has suffered (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Common Cents

        tremendously.  Much less content, design layout that changes weekly in a vain attempt to solve the problem.

        •  I think they need less content. (0+ / 0-)

          Frankly, they need to cover the things the net and TV can't or won't cover and when they do overlap in coverage it should be their quality and focus that stand out for them. That is how you sell in the information market.

          They should leave the death of Michael Jackson to TV coverage.

          Again I think in-depth reporting and analysis is where they can find their niche again. Less can be more especially when most of their content has been discussed online and on TV long before the paper comes out. They should never be regurgitating what people saw on TV or read on a blog.

          by Common Cents on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:39:43 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  There is a problem with Intellectual Property on (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Common Cents, Hunter Huxley

    the Internet. Solutions belong to tracking the authors more carefully (automatically) and rewarding them (in tiny bits). Maybe an Internet currency could be created, allowing trading in intellectual and artistic bits. that would prevent some outlets to profit from other people's work, without ever giving anything in return. Just a thought.

    Patrice Ayme Tyranosopher

    by patriceayme on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:23:10 AM PDT

    •  Perhaps you are right. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Hunter Huxley

      There could be some sort of equation set up such that if you link to a certain publication a certain amount of times and you get ad revenue yourself then a certain percentage of the ad rev goes to that publication. The percentage reached by how much ad rev you receive and how many times you use that particular publication.

      Perhaps something like that would help, but newspapers fundamentally sill produce way more content then the demand of consumers.

      by Common Cents on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:25:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I propose KosRecs be the new currency. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      1 rec = 1$.  

      Here, you may have one now.

      Snarka Snarka Snarka!

      by Hunter Huxley on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:27:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We're the advertising money can't buy. n/t (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Common Cents
    •  I do think that is overlooked. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sceptical observer

      As I mentioned, every link sends people to that paper. How many of those people explore the site and possibly begin to like the paper? We don't know, but it would be extremely unlikely that no one does. It is also extremely likely that it does generate more interest in the papers linked.

      Who doesn't like to have something they wrote be linked? I remember working for a blog on a publication and the excitement I got when the WSJ blog linked to my work!

      by Common Cents on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 11:30:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Actually, funny story this. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I remember when the newspapers decided to cut off their nose to spit themselves. Luckily, they were able to stem the bleeding by jamming their heads up their own asses.

    See, the nuts and bolts income of newspapers were classifieds. While not as valuable as display ads in the editorial section, they kept the lights on, rent paid and pensions filled.

    The rest was the gravy.

    When the INTERNET!!! came, every newspaper basically tripped over themselves getting a website. This is where they screwed themselves.

    Before Craigslist even existed, countless newspaper websites offered FREE classified ads.


    They undercut themselves. They devalued their primary income source online in a horrific business model decision and were later crushed when Craigslist developed a data hub of classifieds.

    The newspapers did not die because of the copyright ownership of their content, they died because they devalued the worth of their classified section until it became a cost.

    Free ads + server/production/dev = LOSS

    So do not cry for the newspapers, they did this to themselves.

  •  Newspapers could do this any time they wanted (0+ / 0-)

    A list of approved referring pages.

    If you are clicking from someplace not on the approved list, you don't get the content.

    An online billing software to get yourself on the approved list, even.

  •  He's not respected on individual rights or (0+ / 0-)

    social justice, or race.
    This is a conservative take from

    In 1993, U.S. Magistrate Judge P. Michael Mahoney found the district guilty of systematic discrimination against African-American and Hispanic students ( In March 1994, the school district was ordered to "eliminate all vestiges of discriminating against black and Hispanic students." Not long after, another judge ordered District 205 to implement "system-wide remedies." These remedies include extensive busing of children from one side of town to the other, because most of the schools on the west side of the Rock River are predominantly African-American and Hispanic, while those on the East side are predominantly Caucasian. The remedies also include building new schools and updating existing ones on the west side of Rockford (ISU School Law Quarterly).

    For over a decade, the federal court’s orders regulated virtually every aspect of school administration in Rockford, requiring the district to expend over $210 million through the 1998-99 school year. Areas of federal judicial control include student assignment, within-school assignment, extra-curricular activities, discipline, curriculum and instruction, transportation, disposition and acquisition of facilities, district boundaries, facilities and equipment. The people of Rockford pay the highest property tax of any community in the United States (

    On April 18, 2001 Rockford Public Schools were granted their freedom from twelve years of school "desegregation" litigation and a five year old court order called "ambitious schemes of social engineering," by Judge Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision ordered that the district be granted the relief they sought. Rockford students are now free to attend neighborhood schools. "The racial balance guidelines imposed by the court are no longer valid," proclaimed school district attorney Tom Lester.

    The more liberal take highlights the fact that before the desegregation order, Rockford had segregated tracking and would often put even black students scoring in the 99th%ile on the placement test in the lower track, while putting white students who scored below average in the upper track.

    . The appellate court did not challenge the lower court finding of
    disparate placement of African-American students in lower-tracked classes. The appellate court
    characterized this discrimination as a "misuse" of tracking. * Remedial tracks served no educational function. The appellate court studiously avoided any
    recognition of the lower court's evidentiary finding that the lower tracked classes constituted
    educational dead-ends. * Track rigidity. The appellate court also ignored this evidentiary finding. * Poor tests. While the appellate court placed a great deal of faith in "objective" testing (see
    below), it also ignored this evidentiary finding.
    Page 5 * Erratic use of tests. As discussed in greater detail below, this evidentiary finding comprised
    the appellate court's primary focus. In fact, the Posner opinion creates the impression that the
    district's only significant problem regarding tracking was its failure to consistently apply these
    objective criteria. * Heterogeneous, but racially identifiable, resulting classes. The appellate court implicitly
    acknowledged this finding, but it blamed the problem on the school district's failure to
    consistently apply objective test criteria.
    Thus, the appellate court seized on one evidentiary element of the injury (the segregative track
    placement) and attributed it to one evidentiary element of causation (the erratic use of tests). The
    court then characterized the problem as resulting merely from an unfaithful application of an
    otherwise workable tracking model; it re-categorized the violation so that it could re-categorize
    the remedy. The lower court had concluded that the tracking itself must be enjoined because the
    district used it as a means of intentionally racial segregation. The appellate court disagreed,
    reasoning that the school district did not "adopt" the tracking system to discriminate. Instead, the
    district only "misused tracking, twisting the criteria to achieve greater segregation than objective
    tracking alone would have done" (Rockford, 1997, p. 536).
    To reach this conclusion, the court contorted the lower-court finding concerning the inadequacy
    of the tests and the erratic use of those tests. The appellate court reasoned that the plaintiffs
    "implicitly" conceded, "by accusing the school district of having placed white kids in higher
    tracks, and black kids in lower tracks, without always complying rigorously with objective
    criteria, such as scores on achievement tests," that discrimination in the RSD could be eliminated
    without abolishing tracking (Rockford, 1997, p. 536).
    However, the plaintiffs made no such implicit concession. Rather, they made two inter-related
    arguments to the trial court. First, they demonstrated that the tests poorly measured "ability."
    Second, they used a statistical analysis (reproduced in the lower court's opinion) to counter the
    school district's argument that placements were objectively based on these tests. Specifically, the
    plaintiffs used the test scores to show that so-called "homogeneous" classes in fact contained
    students with a very diverse set of scores.
    This second analysis responded to the district's claims that the placements were primarily based
    on these tests. It also documented a downward placement of African-American students, as
    compared to where the students would have been placed had the test scores been the sole
    determining criterion. If the standardized test scores were the sole determining criterion, one
    would expect to see more African Americans in high-track classes.
    However, the plaintiffs did not offer this evidence to show, nor did the trial court find, that
    placements based solely on these tests would be pedagogically desirable. In fact, the evidence
    (and the evidentiary findings) were clear: the tests could not fairly guide these placements. The
    evidence was offered to demonstrate the arbitrariness of track placements, but substituting some
    other placement criteria would not be likely to make the process any less arbitrary.
    Nevertheless, Judge Posner's opinion concluded that the misuse should be enjoined, not the
    tracking. Specifically, he limited the available remedy—based upon the then-existing record—to
    an injunction that would "forbid the district, on pain of contempt if the prohibition is flouted, to
    track students other than in accordance with criteria that have been validated as objective and
    nonracist" (Rockford, 1997, p. 536).
    Page 6
    But this suggested remedy would accomplish little in light of the district court's findings that the
    remedial tracks served no educational function, that the rigidity of the tracks allowed for no
    upward mobility, and that the "objective" tests themselves provided no valid basis for track
    Interestingly, rather than directly confronting this evidence, the appellate opinion presents a
    separate set of evidentiary findings. For example, the appellate court does not confront the trial
    court findings that the Rockford tracking system ensured that low-track students would have no
    educational future and that the rigidity of the Rockford tracking system allowed for no upward
    mobility. Instead, the appellate court rehabilitates tracking by presenting it as a "controversial
    educational policy" and arguing that "lawyers and judges are not competent to resolve the
    controversy." It cites scholarly authority for the proposition that most American students are
    tracked and reasons that, "as the consensus of the nation's educational authorities, it [tracking]
    deserves some consideration by a federal court" (Rockford, 1997, p. 536).
    Similarly, rather than confront the trial court finding concerning the inadequacy of the "objective"
    tests, the appellate court simply assumes the existence of "criteria that have been validated as
    objective and non-racist." What criteria do the appellate judges have in mind? Is the school
    district really going to place students using only standardized test scores? These judges may
    consider such tests to be objective, but we are unaware of any district that uncompromisingly use
    these scores to place students.


    The road to hell has not YET been paved with Republicans, but it SHOULD be -- Corrected BumperSticker

    by ge0rge on Tue Jun 30, 2009 at 01:33:46 PM PDT

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