A group of German journalists has nailed 17 Internet theses to the virtual wall, an Internet Manifesto meant to describe this medium and what it needs to keep growing.
(Illustration from the Newspaper Association of America.)
The document saddens me, because there is nothing in it I didn't know in 1994, when I first began practicing my craft on the Internet as editor of The Interactive Age Daily, a short-lived online publication of CMP Media.
Here are my paraphrases of the Manifesto's main clauses, which are a lot more fun in the original German:
The Internet is different. The Internet can fit in your pocket. The Internet mirrors society. The Internet must be free. The Internet is a victory for information, and improves journalism.
I had a short-hand code for much of this back in the mid-1990s. The IN in Internet stands for interactive. To quote an educator's line, I'm no longer your sage on the stage. I am your guide at the side. You are as much a participant in this post as I am. Whether you choose to be one is up to you.
The net requires networking. Links are good. More information is good. The Internet is where politics happens, and all opinions must be allowed. Old business models must die. Copyright is nothing without copying.
What provoked this was the Hamburg Declaration, a statement of principles from old-line publishers demanding more right to control their work when it goes online, and claiming news will disappear unless they can charge for its re-use in any form, including links journalists take for granted.
A case in point. Last December Gatehouse Media, a small newspaper publisher, sued The New York Times Co., a big one, over its use of headlines and lead sentences to Gatehouse content on The Boston Globe site. After a month the Times caved.
There is a way for any site to control how its content is syndicated, called a robots.txt file. If you don't want search engines collecting links from your site, you can stop it.
But publishers want links. A story no one links to does not make a sound.
Print publishers just expect to be paid for the service a link provides. Imagine what your Internet bill would be if links were taxed. These Germans aren't the only folks concerned. So is the Nieman Lab, the Harvard journalism fellowship program.
Suits like that of Gatehouse have already had an impact. Google News, for instance, now links to a lot of stuff you can't read, because a direct link leads to either a paid or registration firewall. It's frustrating.
There are many business models. You can put any kind of file online. Quality rises to the top. Credibility is in the eyes of the beholder.
The journalists who signed the Internet Manifesto fear that those who signed the Hamburg Declaration want to simply extend the market control they hold offline to the online world, and force people to pay for it.
I share their sentiment. Do you?