Ken Doctor recently talked with David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, the newspaper industry's leading trade association, about the congressional push for an antitrust exemption, what's behind it and the plight of the industry in this Q&A, edited for length and clarity.
KEN DOCTOR: This is a long-standing issue. I recall organizing conference calls with the general counsel of Knight Ridder [for which I worked], Tribune and Gannett more than 15 years ago around the question of what is "fair use." We discussed whether the nascent Google was overstepping fair use bounds and whether to challenge it legally. We never did. Here we are now, and the value of news content in the digital age really has never gotten a reckoning.
DAVID CHAVERN: If it is valuable, then we have every right to ask that it be valued. If we're going to be hiring reporters and hiring lawyers and doing all the hard stuff, there has to be rights around that, [ones] that protect economic value. And people struggle with this because they are used to a world in which the economic value was derived from the print advertising and then you could just use the other stuff for free basically.
CHAVERN: So, you strip out the advertising model, you actually have to value the content. And I think you're right that "fair use," first of all, it keeps expanding over time. We haven't yet wrestled with what is fair return for somebody creating valuable content.
The one thing I do know -- I gave a speech at a copyright IT conference up on the hill -- and some of the questions were: "Would people still make music if they didn't get paid for it? Would people still write books if they didn't get paid for it?" Blah, blah, blah.
First of all, whether they would or wouldn't doesn't mean it's fair right. So you should return value to people who create. But I said, listen, with the news business, it's really clear what the free news business is. The free news business is "Pope Endorses Trump." There will be news. It will all be garbage. We've all seen now the dark side of the free news business. We've got to get to where our content is valued, and part of that is a relationship with subscribers. You know, reader revenue.
DOCTOR: Well, it's clearly part of the answer. But let me get to kind of the genesis of this new push. How long have you been working on this question of whether to take this approach? Is this months or how long?
CHAVERN: We probably have been formulating the idea about what a possible approach was for probably three to four months.
DOCTOR: I talk to a lot of publishers, and there's been a continuing source of frustration. The platforms talk a good game there, and then we see piecemeal progress. Is this move a response to the slowness of the platforms in accommodating the individual requests of publishers?