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Don't oversimplify the GateHouse fight


According to one school of thought, GateHouse's decision to challenge's "Your Town" approach in court merits utter contempt. As a commenter on Universal Hub said: "This is a clear case of a bunch of morons who skipped that "Internet 101" class in business school, and now they're pissed because people aren't going through their website the way THEY want them to."

Actually, it's a bit more complicated than that.

For starters, let's try a little thought experiment, which I first proposed on "Beat the Press" back on December 5.

Imagine that I decide to start a new, web-only newspaper devoted to the city of Boston. Then imagine I fill my new publication--let's call it the "Boston Gazette"--entirely with links to articles from the Boston Globe. Is that journalistically legit? Nope. It's just a lame, transparent attempt to repackage someone else's work as my own.

Now suppose I start the web-only Boston Gazette, fill it with mass quantities of original reporting--and every now and then, toss in a link to a Globe story dealing with some noteworthy subject. Is that legit? I'd say so.

One big problem with's "Your Town" sites, I think, is that they exist in an uncomfortable middle ground between these two extremes. Sometimes the vast majority of content is generated by the Globe/; sometimes an unseemly amount of stuff seems to comes from GateHouse. What's more, as Dan Kennedy notes, sometimes the titles/heds that picks up from GateHouse invite further reading of the GateHouse story in question; sometimes they tell you all you need to know, thus obviating the need for a click-through. 

Also, as we speculate about the implications of this fight for the future of blogging and web-based media in general, let's bear in mind two key questions. First, what do we do with the links we provide online? And second, what we hope to achieve by providing those links?

Universal Hub's Adam Gaffin has stopped linking to GateHouse stories because he's afraid of getting sued. I understand this decision, but I don't think he needs to worry. For one thing, when Gaffin links to a story from GateHouse (or the Globe, or any one of his manifold other sources), he expands on it in some way--almost always with a witty headline, and usually with some pointed commentary in his write-up. On the "Your Town" sites, that's not how treats GateHouse's material. Instead, just slaps the excerpted GateHouse title/lede up there. In short, there's no intellectual value added. It's appropriation for appropriation's sake.

Then there's the question of intent. I think I can safely say that Gaffin doesn't want to be the web site of record for New England (which is why the Globe would be stupid to give him any sort of legal problems) or the web site of record for any of the towns GateHouse covers (ditto, with "GateHouse" substituted for "the Globe"). But the "Your Town" sites do have such aspirations. Here's how "Your Town Newton" bills itself:

Welcome to your one-stop site for all things Newton: News, sports and recreation, school info, organizations, blogs, discussions, business listings, and more from around the city [emphasis added].

Does this mean "Your Town Newton" wants GateHouse's "Wicked Local Newton" to go out of business? Not necessarily, since this would destroy one of the key sources of "Your Town Newton" editorial content. But I'm pretty sure Bob Kempf & Co. would be happy if no one ever looked at the "Wicked Local Newton" home page again. (Also, don't forget that Kempf used to be GateHouse's VP for interactive media.)

Disclaimer: I worked at Community Newspaper Company when it was owned by the Herald. CNC was subsequently purchased by GateHouse, and I know some current GateHouse employees.

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  • Appalled said:

    I am in no way an expert, proponent or even pretend to understand the blogsphere rules and regulations but I think that and the Globe, let's call a spade a spade have taken embarrassing yourself to new levels.

    To pass off mostly GateHouse materials as their new local journalism and sell ads around it is the most despicible thing to come out of that crap hole on Morressey Blvd. in years.

    I am sure that they had many a conference call with their lawyers who assured them that ripping off Gate House on the Web could be done legally and on the cheap. Another example of lazy journalism that dosen't help, inform or better anyone but themselves.....

    Bravo you jack asses!!!

    December 23, 2008 3:35 PM
  • Ryan said:

    Very, very good explanation. I wasn't paying much attention to this whole story - and you summed it up quite nicely.

    This is probably the lowest moment of the Globe in terms of journalistic standards. It's stealing and I hope GateHouse wins. The sooner the Globe's sold, the better.

    December 24, 2008 5:09 AM
  • Chuck T said:

    Very well said. I've noticed some changing habits lately about aggregation: they don't drive that much traffic. People get what they need from whatever source they're reading and that's it. It takes a "touch" to actually drive traffic from one site to another, people tend to be lazy and will just read where they are.

    The Globe's site acts more as a scanning tool, giving you a quick snapshot of what's in Newton. It doesn't encourage the linking the way that Google does. It also doesn't add anything to the overall "conversation" about the city the way that Gaffin and Universal Hub adds to the Boston discussion.

    December 24, 2008 7:31 AM
  • Tim Allik said:

    Aggregation isn't a sound business model. Aggregation is a commodity. There is no "wide moat" around this idea. In fact there isn't a moat at all. Using an RSS reader and a few search terms achieves virtually the same thing.'s new Your Town sections are a laudable first step in the right direction -- but the site would be better off by launching a local blog network with a shared revenue model. could leverage its reach and traffic to the benefit of its blog partners in a way that smaller competitors could not (the moat). Bloggers' compensation would be tied directly to pageviews, an incentive model that New York Times property has used and is using successfully.  

    By giving bloggers in this network special opportunities to integrate content on their own websites with widgets and links, would also benefit from broader  distribution and better search engine optimization.

    December 30, 2008 2:08 PM

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