Should News Organizations Pay People For Their Tweets?

    February 14, 2012
    Chris Crum

Let me start off by saying: No. I don’t think news organizations should have to pay people for referencing their tweets. But this is a similar logic to how some traditional news organizations operate.

The Associated Press is about to enter a new era, as its President and CEO Tom Curley steps down. This was announced late last month, along with the fact that the AP began a search for his replacement. He’ll stick around until that replacement is found.

The AP and the web have had something of a rocky relationship, as the news industry as a whole has felt the effects of the increasing rapidity of news. The relationship even saw the AP’s content absent from Google News at one point, before it ultimately reached a new licensing deal with the search giant. Under Curley’s reign, the AP has been very stingy at times about how others engage with their content, in terms of referencing, quoting, linking, etc. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the organization evolves under new management.

Should sites referencing or linking to AP content have to pay for the privilege to do so? Let us now what you think.

The Guardian ran an interview with Curley this week, in which he talks about some of these issues, and the challenges that his replacement will face.

Curley talked about how much shorter the news cycle (which he defines as the “period of time when all the people interested in a story had access to it”) is these days, compared to the 60s. From 12 hours, to just a few minutes. “I would say until about 11 September 2001 it was three hours,” he’s quoted as saying. “Now it’s 30 minutes. You might say if you are a certain age – with Twitter and Facebook and all that type of stuff – it’s three minutes.”

I’m not sure I agree with that. I’m pretty sure you have access to news on the web as long as it’s on the web. Whether you’re perusing sites’ archives, searching on Google, digging back through past Facebook posts, or through the Twitter timeline, access is generally there. There are certainly some exceptions to the rule, but just because the news comes in quick and plentiful, does not mean it disappears just as quickly.

“If we can win by two minutes, on just about every story we can charge a premium,” he’s quoted as saying. “Driving faster and faster is what we are still focused on. That hasn’t changed.”

And the AP is still getting trumped by social media. As you have probably heard, Singer Whitney Houston passed away last weekend. The AP didn’t break this. Twitter broke this. Here is the breaking tweet:

The AP recognizes the importance of social media though. The AP has broken stories on Twitter before running reports. It’s interesting that the BBC seems to frown upon this.

With social media services like Twitter (or Facebook, Google+ and others…even blogs), the actual eye witness gets to break the story in many cases. Users can get it straight from the source.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for the news agency like the AP. You’re probably aware of the phenomenon where false death rumors keep popping up on Twitter. Someone has to separate the fact from the fiction. This could be the AP, or any other news agency. However, it could also, again be Twitter. It just depends on who’s tweeting. If Whitney Houston’s publicist tweeted that Houston was really alive, that probably would’ve been authoritative enough for most people, as long as they saw it. Not everyone follows Houston’s publicist, or knows who he/she is, however. If I referenced the tweet, my readers that trust me may have taken my word. Likewise for the AP. I’m not comparing myself to the AP. It’s just a matter of readers trusting where they’re getting their info, whether that be from someone they follow on Twitter, a blog they read or an old school media organization. The channel itself (Twitter/blog/web publication/newspaper) doesn’t really matter. It’s the “who”.

This is why Google is placing so much emphasis on authors in search results (well, one reason at lesast).

According to the Guardian interview, Curley thinks the issue of sites “using stories without permission” is “worse now than it’s ever been” because said sites are getting a “free-ride on other people’s content”. If he’s talking about aggregators that provide a snippet and a link to the original or another news site referencing something reported in a separate article on the subject, then he’s just not acknowledging how the world wide web works – pages that link to other pages where appropriate. Links and quotes provide context to stories.

Maybe he’s talking about scraper sites or sites that are straight up stealing content and passing it off as their own without credit. Sure, that stuff is not good, but I don’t get the impression this is the “issue” he’s talking about. That certainly wasn’t the “issue” when there was an “issue” with Google in the past, which according to the interview, led to Google paying 8 figures for AP content licensing.

Curley is quoted as saying, “We are not trying to shut down the web.” But what is the web without pages linking to other pages? It’s not much of a “web”.

The main argument appears to be that the AP needs to get paid by anyone who wants to point to their content. “It costs a lot of money to have a journalist in Afghanistan and make sure they can stay alive and get their video, their stills and their text back to us,” he is quoted as saying.

How much money do you think it costs to keep Google’s servers up and running? Or Twitter’s? Or Facebook’s? Is the AP using these service in their reporting efforts? It costs the average citizen who may be living paycheck to paycheck to pay their Internet or phone bill, which was required for them to tweet that breaking news the AP and other news agencies jumped on. Are they getting paid for their efforts?

The AP, along with nearly 30 other news organizations have banded together to create NewsRight, a new system that seeks payment from those using their work. The usual gray areas come into question. The issue of fair use, which seems to win in court time and time again, at least when you look at the recent Righthaven saga, will continue to be debated.

Thanks to the web, the free flow of information has never been greater. Traditional media entities need to recognize that it goes both ways.

Should the AP pay Twitter for every tweet it references? Should it pay the citizen who created the tweet? Tell us what you think in the comments.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.