Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Anchorage Daily News Blogging Policy - 2

In an earlier post, I mentioned that the ADN is recruiting community bloggers. This resulted in a comment by a community council member who had received a copy of the terms of agreement that ADN was asking community bloggers to sign. I discussed the terms of agreement and posted them in the ADN Blogging Policy 1. Their terms of agreement suggest to me that they haven’t thought this out very carefully. So in this post I’m going to discuss
  1. What's the difference between a blogger and the kind of contributor this Agreement was originally written for?
  2. Why might a blogger sign the agreement?

I would first distinguish between 1) the reporters and staff who are working with the website and the blogs at the ADN. They obviously understand the potential and have done a great job in posting important and timely material, and 2) the higher ups who are responsible for the Terms of Agreement.

The Terms of Agreement document- and Kathleen McCoy, who’s coordinating this effort, and who appears to be in the “reporters and staff” group, corroborated this - is basically a version of the old agreement the ADN has used for independent contributors to the ADN with a few cosmetic changes to make it address blogs. (I should also say that this is McClatchy boiler plate rather than ADN, since it even leaves the name of the newspaper blank.) But bloggers are a far different animal than contributors of old.

Bloggers and traditional writers are significantly different

Writers needed a publisher, bloggers do not. The biggest difference by far, the difference that makes all the difference, is that before the web and blogs, writers were dependent on some medium to publish their writing. Websites (and blogs are a type of website) have changed this completely. Bloggers don’t need a publisher. They need access to the internet (most libraries provide this) and knowledge of how to set up a blog. They don’t even need to know how to read or write. My MacBook allows me to push a button and the computer’s built in webcam will record my picture and whatever I want to say.

This said, why would I, a blogger, sign up with the ADN? Here’s what the ADN says it offers to bloggers:

[When I went back to get the specifics of what the ADN would provide, I couldn’t find it in the Terms of Agreement. I guess I got that from the Key Terms in the email Kathleen McCoy sent the Federation of Community Councils, which I didn't post anywhere. I’ll post the whole list at the bottom of this post.]

  • ADN wishes to host community bloggers on our site.*
Blogspot hosts my blog and everyone else's free already. This is no big deal.

  • We will use our print and web platforms to inform readers of the online blogs we host and that they can participate in, to help grow audience. *
This is the only benefit I see from cooperating with the ADN. And it is important. When Kyle linked to my blog during the corruption trials, he did it because he felt the blog had something worthwhile to add to the coverage. With in-house blogs, will he be told he can't link to other local blogs that are better than the ones ADN carries? (Obviously I have a personal interest in this issue.)

  • No money is involved*

I get the same great benefit from my Blogspot blog. Google (who owns Blogspot) pays me nada. But they have adsense if I want to sign up. They will put content related ads on my site and I would get some tiny amount of money from the hits on the ads. With ADN, any ad revenue goes only to ADN.

  • Readers will be able to comment on blog entries, and subscribe to an rss feed from the blog.*

These features come with my Blogspot blog and I have more control over comments if I need to than the ADN seems to have.

  • Blog writers will be able to link, post photos, and even post video on their blog if the spirit moves them.*
Yeah, yeah, yeah, every blog can do this too.

  • Standing content on the righthand side of the blog page can be built in and stay on the blog for use by readers. This could be useful Websites, good books or articles you like your blog readers to know about, PDF documents you think they might want to read,etc.*

Again, standard on all the main blogsites.

[* the lines with * at the end were taken from the McCoy Key Points mentioned above and posted at the end of this post]

What does it cost bloggers?

1. More legal exposure than they probably would have as an independent blogger. From the Terms of Agreement:
You warrant and represent that all written entries and all other materials posted to the Blog is your original work, free from plagiarism, and that it has not been published anywhere else, that it has not been assigned, licensed or otherwise encumbered anywhere else, that it is not libelous or defamatory, that it will not violate or infringe the copyright, patent, trademark, trade secret, right of privacy or publicity, or any other proprietary right of any third party. You also agree to refuse any compensation from any third party for placing any content on the Blog, to not use the Blog posts as a vehicle for advertising or promoting goods or services, and to not knowingly link to any downloadable applications or other content which may be harmful to a user’s computer.
[Did Dan Fagan sign one of these?]
Bloggers should avoid much of this anyway, except that
  • by being on the ADN site, new bloggers have a larger audience. Upset readers are more likely to go after the ADN than a lone blogger. But then they will find out that the ADN has dumped all the liability onto the blogger. So the blogger, who would have been fine as an independent blogger, has attracted, because of the connection to the ADN, a legal action.
  • now you can get in trouble from the ADN as well as someone reading your blog
  • A private blogger might want to take payments from someone to post things. And may want to take ads.
You agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless NEWSPAPER and its affiliates, employees, successors and assigns, against and from any and all third party claims, liabilities, damages, fines, penalties and/or costs of whatsoever nature arising out of or in any way connected to a breach of your representations and warranties under this agreement.
You open yourself up to all sorts of potential liability.

2. Loss of control over your blog

NEWSPAPER shall own all right, title, and interest in and to the ___________________.com web site, and all intellectual property rights relating thereto. All rights not expressly granted under this agreement are expressly reserved.
It isn’t clear what this means because it seems to be contradicted later in the Agreement, but if you get tired of the ADN you own the content, but here it says they own the blog.

...you grant NEWSPAPER an irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, paid-up, transferable license, in perpetuity, to reproduce, distribute, publicly display, perform, and publish your Blog, including a license to redistribute, reproduce, republish, and to authorize republication, reproduction, and syndication of all or part of the Blog in any database, in any other media or platform or by any other method (computer, electronic, magnetic, online, optical, video, CD-ROM or otherwise), now or hereafter invented.

While most bloggers aren’t going to do any of these things, and while the ADN gives you the copyright, they also have taken the right to make money from your work with nothing in here that says you even get a share of any profit they make off your work.

NEWSPAPER shall have the right to modify the Blog content in order to make it compatible with the technical requirements and the “look and feel” of it’s web site. You grant us the right to use the Blog name, your name, likeness, photograph and biographical material to advertise, promote and publicize you and your Blog for the purposes of promoting and introducing new users to the Blog….NEWSPAPER shall have the right to remove any content from the Blog or it’s web site that NEWSPAPER believes, in its sole discretion may violate the rights of any third party, violates any law, or is otherwise objectionable.

WHAT?!!! You’re going to edit me without my having any say? Are you going to correct my possessive pronouns too? And reproduce it with my name on it? Even if I don’t like what you did to it? NFW. (Would that be found “otherwise objectionable” by the ADN?)

3. Banishment from the ADN's realm if you terminate your agreement.

in the event that this agreement ends, NEWSPAPER will stop within 30 days any advertising, promotion or publicizing of the Blog from any Web sites owned or affiliated with NEWSPAPER

If you change your mind and get out of the agreement, you get blackballed by the ADN. Even if this isn't what they intended, it doesn't sound very welcoming.

What should the ADN do?

Recognize that this is new and ever changing territory. The only certain old rule is “go with quality.” Quality, in the blog age, means authenticity, immediacy, transparency, and honesty. Good bloggers looking at the Terms of Agreement will see them as: inauthentic, warmed over old contracts, with the real meaning hidden in legalese.

The attorneys should lighten up. Go for quality and things will work out the best they can. There’s no guarantee. The Terms of Agreement are the kind of document you take to the other party’s attorney and you work out the details to both parties’ satisfaction. But in this case, the bloggers don’t have an attorney. It’s take it or leave it. So, if you want bloggers to believe in your good faith, you need to offer the kind of Agreement they would get if a) you really wanted the bloggers on your website, and b) they had an attorney to negotiate a contract that fairly met the bloggers' needs as well as newspaper's.

I’d recommend you consider what the ADN has to offer the bloggers. What do they want? I can’t speak for them all, but here are things I’d like:
  • Recognition that you value my participation. The newspaper is going to bloggers as part of the ADN's survival strategy, but the Terms of Agreement makes it seem like the higher ups are doing this completely against their will. Show you appreciate the bloggers with
    • a token honorarium,
    • free tickets to events bloggers might cover or other in-kind benefits,
    • a share in any future profits from syndication or whatever ways you might leverage a blog into future earnings (odds aren't high this will happen anyway)
    • a payment for every 1000 page hits.
    • awards for best blog, best blog stories, best blog coverage of a major event, most prolific blogger, etc.
    • any combination of the above and this is just off the top of my head
  • Very limited and transparent editorial guidelines with a blogger advisory board to ensure fair application of the guidelines. Yes, the ADN needs to protect itself from copyright violations, defamation, and bad journalism. And sometimes there may need to be format changes. But any changes in content or style should be made with the agreement of the blogger and the newspaper, and failing that, with an appeal to the advisory board. The advisory board could be used to work out a new Agreement after a year or two of testing the first one. And pay them. It doesn't have to be the $400/hour you pay your attorneys, but if you do it right, you'll save a lot of that money too.
  • Balanced protection against legal action. This means that the newspaper shouldn’t abandon bloggers if a lawsuit arises that is not due to negligence or carelessness on the part of the blogger. The newspaper should help protect bloggers' press rights such as getting access to events and information as it helped its reporters get access to trial documents and tapes this year.
You should also check out the NYU study of the best blogging newspapers in the US. They came up with eight factors to evaluate newspapers' blogging quality:
  • Ease-of-use and clear navigation.
  • Currency
  • Quality of writing, thinking and linking.
  • Voice
  • Comments and reader participation.
  • Range and originality.
  • Explain what blogging is on your blogs page.
  • Show commitment!
    (Details for each factor at the best blogging link above.)
The ADN line staff is doing what it can to meet these standards, but the ADN management need to convince the corporate attorneys that business as usual, legally, will be just as fatal as business as usual, journalistically. [Note: the survey looked at the biggest 100 newspapers, so the ADN wasn't in the running, but I think now - after a great summer of improvements - the ADN would score high with its web coverage and inhouse blogs.[

***Kathleen McCoy's Key Points to Community Councils

Key points:

* ADN wishes to host community bloggers on our site.
* We will use our print and web platforms to inform readers of the online blogs we host and that they can participate in, to help grow audience.
* No money is involved on our end or the bloggers' end. This is a community service, aimed at turning the ADN website into a place for conversations and information sharing, beyond what our own reporters produce.
* Readers will be able to comment on blog entries, and subscribe to an rss feed from the blog.
* Blog writers will be able to link, post photos, and even post video on their blog if the spirit moves them.
* Standing content on the righthand side of the blog page can be built in and stay on the blog for use by readers. This could be useful Websites, good books or articles you like your blog readers to know about, PDF documents you think they might want to read,etc.
* The blogger (cor bloggers, one blog can be shared among a tightknit group of people) will get a unique username and password that will give them access to their blog. They can blog from home or work, or the coffee shop down the street.

* I am your resource here at the News for questions, standing content you need posted to the right side, help getting that video up.
* This is new for us. We'll all be learning together, but we are confident it can make a contribution to the public dialogue in Anchorage.
* If you have an idea for a blog you'd like to see, call me and I'll follow up.
* I've enclosed the blogger agreement and the terms of use to this email

So, let's talk. I'm working on setting up as many community blogs as I can. I have three I am working on now -- and will be happy to start working on community council blogs if members so choose.

My best!/ Kathleen]

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