Links are the bloodstream of the web, carrying its oxygen. Links are how original journalism will get audience, traffic, branding, attention, credit, and monetization. Links are a gift and a courtesy. Links are the means to better-informed communities. Links tie people together with each other and the information they need. Links are necessary. Links are good.
But Gatehouse (like the AP before it and the French often) is fighting links from Boston.com. That’s a case of cutting off its nose to spite its face: Gatehouse is turning away traffic and audience. Suicide. But it’s also attempted murder: If on the very slight chance that an equally clueless judge lets this suit proceed, it could put a chill on linking just when we need it most. That’s what’s dangerous. That is irresponsible on Gatehouse’s part.
Indeed, we need more links to more journalism at its source, as I proposed to the Associated Press in the midst of its aborted anti-link crusade. Links are also the key to specialization and efficiency; they will allow a local publication to do local well and link to other stories rather than rewriting them: Do what you do best, link to the rest.
In the comments on my post Monday, Brian Cubbison (of Syracuse.com) pointed out the irony - make that hypocrisy - of Gatehouse’s link policy, as - just like Boston.com - it started a hyperlocal blog in Batavia - where, unlike the Globe, it has no paper - and it links to papers owned by other companies. See this post on the blog’s very first day. I’d say what it does is far worse for both readers and the competition: It summarizes stories (arguably making it unnecessary to click through; Boston.com instead quotes ledes that should entice readers to read more) and it links only to the home page and not directly to the stories (which is downright rude and inconvenient to readers who then would have go do digging for the content). This is closer to stealing content and journalistic value than what Boston.com does. See also this Batavia post Tuesday, which summarizes and quotes a competitor’s story - more than Boston.com has done - and links to it. And look at this post from a blog at Gatehouse’s Wicked Local - the alleged victim of Boston.com’s linking - which quotes news from Boston.com and doesn’t link to it. I’d say that is theft.
So what should happen here? Should Gannett sue Gatehouse? Should we all just sue each other for linking to each other - for doing what the web is all about? As Mark Potts says:
This sort of nonsense really has to stop. Companies like GateHouse need to understand the medium they’re playing in, and how best to play in it, rather than trying to turn back the clock to some sort of imaginary time when they could keep their garden walls tall and stout.
If you can’t stand the links, Gatehouse, get off the web.
Gatehouse’s market cap is a measly $2.1 million. Why don’t we put together a fund to buy it and put it out of its misery and get rid of this ridiculous suit. Or let’s all appeal to Michael E. Reed, CEO of the embattled Gatehouse: Stop this dangerous and destructive suit.
: MORE: Henry Blodget mocks Gatehouse: “We hereby give the New York Times permission to aggregate any or all of our headlines and ledes anytime they feel like it. We’ll even give GateHouse Media the same permission. We can’t wait to welcome their readers to our sites.”
If GateHouse were to have its way with its deep link argument, it would create a legal precedent that makes the act of linking to a copyrighted article illegal. It could mean a crippling of sites such as Romenesko and the Drudge Report, which can bring in enormous amounts of readers while being primarily built upon links to someone else’s expensive-to-create content. But, if enforced, it would also cut off the voluminous flow of readers who arrive to news sites via search engines and aggregators. That, too, has an effect on the bottom line.
In the end, we could see a long list of media companies flinging short-sighted lawsuits at each other, while suicidally pushing their content into black holes guarded by copyright law.
[Disclosures: I have an interest in the link economy as a partner at Daylife and a board member at Publish2 and an advisor to Outside.in. I am involved with those companies because I believe links are the foundation of news in the future.]