UK newspapers threaten NewsNowNews aggregator NewsNow has been on the receiving end of legal threats from a number of UK newspapers, a move that is the equivalent of a herd of donkeys filing a class action suit against the inventor of the wheel.

The announcement comes six months after the Associated Press said it would demand more control over links and revenue sharing from aggregators.

While AP hasn’t been named by NewsNow as a complainant, an open letter by NewsNow MD Struan Bartlett has pointed to most of the UK’s top newspapers, including The Times, The Sun, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent and Daily Express.

He’s asked these newspapers to “restore amicable relations” with aggregators, including NewsNow, which itself appears under threat as a result of the mainstream media’s demands.

Bartlett writes:

Your organisations have sought to introduce new controls on our linking to your websites. Now, a number of parties have threatened us (plus other aggregators) with legal action if we do not either accept these new controls or else stop linking.”

The keyphrase in that last sentence is ‘stop linking’. It once again proves that newspaper executives are reality dodgers of the highest order.

Everybody knows that links are what makes the world turn these days, as far as internet traffic and SEO is concerned. Asking a popular news aggregator to stop linking is one of the more brainless moves a newspaper executive could ever do. The ignorance shown here is simply unbelievable.

He points out the madness of this kind of hostile action:

“We can’t speak for all aggregators but for our part at NewsNow, we don’t do anything that detracts from the value of your content. We don’t redistribute your web pages to anyone. We operate within the law, and we don’t do you any harm.

“Far from it. We deliver you traffic and drive you revenues you otherwise wouldn’t have received. The idea that we are undermining your businesses is incorrect. It is fanciful to imagine that, if it weren’t for link aggregators, you would have more traffic or revenues. We provide a service that you do not: a means for readers to find your content more readily, via continuously updating links to a diversity of websites.”

Bartlett adds: 

We have had enough of indiscriminate attacks. To vilify all aggregators as “cheap worthless technological news solutions” and “content kleptomaniacs” is just empty rhetoric. Not only is that misleading – it is misguided.”

He asks the newspapers to “stop the legal threats”, to “recognise the place and value of legitimate news aggregation websites in today’s news ecosystem”, to “commit to upholding the freedom to link”, and to “support those of your readers who wish to find links to your websites on NewsNow”. 

I can’t help but feel his requests will fall on the deafest of ears.

The old days are not going to return. The media and advertising markets are fragmented and will remain that way. The internet will continue to grow, and will impact on the media industry, but it doesn’t have to be game over. 

Here’s 10 things that newspaper execs should be doing:

  1. Accept and embrace reality (stop dreaming)
  2. Deal with change like grown ups (stop bitchin’)
  3. Spend your time and energy fixing up your businesses and planning for the future (stop blaming)
  4. Understand why links are important (isn’t it weird to bang on about this as we approach 2010?)
  5. Embrace websites that can drive traffic (you already do this, judging by the amount of effort you spend on generating links / traffic from sites like Digg and the blogosphere at large. PS – it’s not their fault. Guaranteed.)
  6. Get closer to your audience and give them the tools they need to engage (social media helps, as you already know)
  7. Stop bastardising your brand (The Daily Mail’s web readers are presumably wholly different from the newspaper’s readers, given the focus on celebrity content… is this quest for traffic helpful, or harmful?)
  8. Figure out what your advertisers want (and what they don’t want, because they’ll be sure to tell you)
  9. Train your staff (for the love of somebody else’s God, please start training your journalists in the ways of the web. Ditto your commercial people, your HR people, your management staff, etc)
  10. Build out a multichannel business (the sooner you do this, the better it’s going to be in the long run).

[Lovely ‘shift | blame’ mage by cyberslayer via Flickr, various rights reserved]