Deborah D. McAdams /
08.17.2012 03:47 PM
McAdams On: News People
The latest break-though
SMILING, STILL: I used to think a job in journalism would be downright amazing back when I was wearing steel-toed Redwings and swinging balled-and-burlapped shrubbery off the tailgate of an International.  A few years later, when I was strutting around Manhattan in a discount LeSuit and making essentially the same wages I had in the Redwings, I had to wonder what memo I’d missed.

The business I’ve come to know as “news” has little or no resemblance to the one I learned about working my way through the University of Nebraska on the business end of a shovel. No one knew then that the Internet would demolish established media business models. No one anticipated how reviled those established models would become. It was unimaginable in the mid-’90s that someone would resell TV station signals without authorization.

Now, folks like Barry Diller, Alki David, Todd Weaver and others insist they have some sort of right to do so. Why? Because they can, apparently. Or so they think. Todd Weaver’s, which started rebroadcasting TV signals in 2010, is now but a weblog with occasional updates on the court case that shut it down. Weaver positioned himself as Robin Hood—better to be right than rich, he told Fierce’s Jim O’Neill last year. Messrs. Diller and David have no such plutocratic quandaries. They’re just moving pawns for reasons not yet fully revealed—or just for fun.

They’re not alone, by any measure. They’re just massively more wealthy than your average content pirate, except for maybe Kim Dotcom, who got rich by being a pirate. The main goal for all of them is to make money off of someone else’s work without paying for it. That’s all quite lovely unless one is on the working end of that equation, where most people reporting the news reside. Homelessness and hunger are not generally conducive to the type of attention, vigilance, focus and study that news requires.

I understand that attention, vigilance, focus and study are not always in powerful evidence when it comes to the news. Everybody gets a five-legged kitten story, or some sort of tip that leads to a sloppy mash-up of uncertainties after sources bail and there’s a black news hole to fill. Then there’s the escalation of plagiarism, which needs to be addressed at the industry level, especially if reporters are under too much pressure to do to much. A proliferation of media platforms hasn’t translated into a proliferation of news personnel. As one editor quoted in “Overheard in the Newsroom” said, “The responsibility to do all those things is still here. It’s just that all the people are gone.”

That’s not to make excuses for plagiarism or sloppy reporting, but it happens, and it furthers the notion that just anyone can be a journalist, and therefore does not need to be paid. A growing percentage of “reporter” positions on any given job site are advertised as “pro bono.” So people can get their byline on the web, I was told by one enterprising entrepreneur who planned to start a “news” website by aggregating from established sources and enlisting free contributors. How getting one’s byline on the web even matters is baffling, since any type of life form can do it. (And quite frankly, one has a better chance of rising to a modicum of popularity if one is other than human.)

Even so, with all the warts and misfires in the news business, a level of traditionalism remains relevant. If it didn’t, local TV signals wouldn’t hold the same attraction for pirates. Self-stylized entrepreneurs wouldn’t be aggregating from established news sources. People wouldn’t be stealing the work of news professionals, and TV stations across the country wouldn’t be adding newscasts across their schedules.

There appears to be an unprecedented appetite for news, probably because of the very platform explosion that’s cannibalizing the business. It seems the smart money would invest in news, and by that, I mean people. No amount of software, hardware and overly optimistic delegation can make up for what the business now needs more than anything else.


(1937 photo of female journos with Republican National Committee member Marion Martin courtesy of The Library of Congress.)

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Posted by: Anonymous
Sat, 08-18-2012 02:36 PM Report Comment
Hello Deborah, small correction for your consideration I have enjoyed your articles in the Fierce family, as well as "McAdams On" for quite some time. In your latest McAdams On: News People ( ), you do a great job of showing the value of news and news people, however have improperly stated that I and ivi have not properly compensated all copyright holders. This industry is a complicated one, so I understand it is easy to lump me into the same category as Alki David or Chet Kanojia (Barry Diller), however I'd like to articulate a very important difference. I have always believed content owners should be paid, and I have always paid them. I should reference another one of your articles where I believe you glossed over an important nuance in this industry, copyright. In McAdams On: The Demise of Retrans ( ) you lump copyright and retransmission consent into one, when they are in fact two very distinct areas. This is also the distinction between FilmOn, Aereo, and ivi. FilmOn, and Aereo, have not, and do not intend to compensate any copyright holders. ivi, on the other hand has compensated every single copyright holder, in exactly the same manner as every cable company since the inception of the compulsory license royalty payment system into copyright law. Every copyright holder is compensated with payment. The easiest way I can describe the complexity is by our story. 1) ivi is a cable system competitor, and has always planned on being one. 2) ivi makes payments to the US Copyright Office in strict accordance to the compulsory license in copyright law, granting us the right to carry a secondary transmission of the broadcasters primary transmission. Because the US Copyright Office takes the payments from all cable and satellite companies and divvies that up to pay all copyright holders (not just the broadcasters). 3) ivi asked permission from all the broadcasters, station groups, and stations to carry their signal under the FCC's retransmission rules, which have two important parts, the first helps us (that they must negotiate with us), and the second helps them (that we must compensate for their signal (not copyright!)). The stations all refused to negotiate with us, since we are not governed by the FCC, (and that most of them had contracts excluding their linear feeds being carried on the Internet from Comcast (and a few others)). 4) ivi is not governed by the FCC, even though we'd welcome it, so we can use the good faith negotiations to carry the channels with retransmission consent. 5) ivi does not need the FCC to clear copyright. The FCC is a regulatory body having nothing to do with copyright. I reference the form filled out with payment to the US Copyright Office: From Form SA1-2 page iii Cable system. A “cable system” is defined as “a facility, located in any State, territory, trust territory, or possession of the United States, that in whole or in part receives signals transmitted or programs broadcast by one or more television broadcast stations licensed by the Federal Communications Commission, and makes secondary transmissions of such signals or programs by wires, cables, microwave, or other communications channels to subscribing members of the public who pay for such service.” A system that meets this definition is considered a cable system for copyright purposes, even if the FCC excludes it from being considered a cable system because of the number or nature of its subscribers or the nature of its secondary transmissions. As this clearly states, A system that meets this definition is considered a cable system for copyright purposes, even if the FCC excludes it from being considered a cable system... 6) We fit the definition of a cable system, we do pay the royalty so all copyright holders are compensated. 7) Our copyright lawsuit is over the statutory definition of a cable system. If we fit the definition above we win, if we don't fit that definition we lose. I'd love to discuss these nuances, how it is very difficult to do things right as a nascent company in this industry, and how the content lock-out of this industry causes a lot of these pain points to delivering television where everybody wants it, the Internet. I hope (even with a district court ruling against us) that you will reconsider lumping us into a group of people who do not compensate copyright holders. I know my credibility will only be restored upon a positive ruling at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, so if you were to silently ignore this clarification comment/email until then I understand, and will not hold it against you :). Keep up the good work! I do enjoy your articles. Todd Weaver 206 240 5820

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