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So earlier today , my girlfriend PG found that one of the photos she had allowed us to use in the Mason Votes project had ended up on Wikipedia. As you can see, if you read the post, she was upset.

Creative Commons

I make it my policy that whenever I am in charge of managing the content for one of the student groups I work with in my job as Technology Manager for the Office of Student Media, I put their content (with their knowledge of course) under a Creative Commons license that permits sharing as long as it has been attributed. This blog and all of my personal content is also under CC. PG’s photos, like all of the photos we put up on Mason Votes’ Flickr page , were under Creative Commons.

There are two reasons I argue for CC – the first is that if someone really wants to steal your content on the web, they’ll do it. At least with CC, people tend to be a bit more polite and they provide some sort of credit. The second reason is because I honestly believe that this is the way the future is going. I think that a lack of flexibility with their content is the very reason news sources are failing. I believe that this is one, if not the only, central issue in the argument between new and old journalism.

My girl knows what she’s talking about!

This is not to say that PG’s argument is without merit, I understand where she’s coming from and she is certainly not alone. In fact, at the same time she was discovering her photo on Wikipedia, Allen Stern (of popular blog CenterNetworks ) was accusing Jason Goldberg (of popular social news site Social Median) of “Grand Theft Content.” The question being argued between the two and the one between PG and I are essentially the same: Should content providers get to have real control over their content? Not only that, but should they want to?

Both PG and Allen Stern make their points well, I’m not going to repeat them here beyond that they believe in having complete control over how their content is used, especially when its use doesn’t seem to aid their brand. In Stern’s case he believes it takes traffic off of his website and away from his advertisers. PG’s believes that free distribution of content smacks of amateurism and doesn’t contribute to (for lack of a better term) her personal brand. In this they would both find many friends in the currently existing world of journalism. Most newspapers, wire services, and corporate media organizations agree with this point of view.

Old Media / New Media

There’s one problem, these groups are failing. Newspapers are folding left and right and traditional “old media” content providers are hiking up their pants and tightening their belts significantly. So much so that for the first time the AP is being truly challenged by another service. In fact, AP President and CEO Tom Curley has identified CNN’s wire service as a “major threat.” Let me give it to you straight, the old media is DYING. They can still recover, make up their profits and survive this downturn, but if they do so, they will come out the other end as new media.

There’s a reason the traditional media is dying out. 

With the economy in shambles and even online display ad rates, once considered to be the end-all of online advertising, are falling. It’s little surprise that traditional outlets are reeling, all the ways that they have considered doing advertising for the last century are suddenly not working. They need to find something new, but they are stuck in the middle of a box. They are stuck in a box that was so well insulated with money for the past few decades that they didn’t even know it was a box. But now all they can see are a bunch of walls closing in and they have no idea what to do. Even members of the new media are stuck in this box and they are feeling the pain too.

It’s time to let go…

Content creators all over need to give up the ghost of control over their content. Your content has skipped out of the narrow frame you made it in and left for the web, trying to exert this determined control that Stern and the mainstream media want over their content is insanity. Yes, you can sue bloggers, cut out web services, and make things difficult, but the only person you are hurting is yourself. There’s going to come a point when the old media doesn’t have the money to threaten anyone anymore. When that time comes, they need to realize that they have to add value to their content in the content otherwise they are SCREWED.

Think about this… how many websites do you read who publish partial posts in their RSS stream? I know that’s the reason I stopped reading The Escapist regularly and it’s why I mostly ignore BBC or The Registrar. These publications, along with Stern, are thinking about the old model, the concept of people picking their morning paper off the driveway and sitting around the water-cooler discussing the latest articles. The internet doesn’t work that way. It’s a billion people standing around a million water-coolers trying to pick out one sentence from the clamor that interests them. If you’re not letting as many people shout out your sentence as loudly as possible then you are missing an opportunity, it doesn’t matter if you’re there to hear the other people say it. Everything adds value to your brand.

News sources don’t stand on their own, they bring in traffic through Digg, FriendFeed, Facebook, Social Median, Google Reader, and all the rest. They gain attention when their content is used in blog posts and people speak to them through a thousand services. They gain traffic when they speak back. In the new world, brands gain value by being distributed, not closeted.

Ironically, one of the most interesting conversations on this is happening through comments on Allen Stern’s tweet of the story through FriendFeed. There’s a reason why. FriendFeed is a community, and as an online community it has a diverse membership. If Stern were to keep his post on his blog and not let it out anywhere else, it would only be seen by a narrow niche that was visiting his website. But on FriendFeed there are technology people, photographers, social media bloggers, mommy bloggers, deviantArt users, twitter addicts, fiction writers, rappers, and so many more. By posting his content to FriendFeed, Stern has access to so many more people then he might otherwise reach. The same happens when he posts on Twitter or Social Median.

Isn’t the point of this for people to see your work? If no one sees what photos you take or what articles you write, what’s the point? Site hits come from two things – Quality content and interaction. The two things that mainstream media lacks the most. It’s no wonder their failing.

This part is for sharing on Social Median!

The old media is dying. If the rest of us don’t want to follow suit, here’s what we need to realize:

  1. You must create quality content to maintain a brand on the internet. Good pictures, good stories, good video, good content. If you maintain good quality, that will bring people to you.
  2. Conversations everywhere mean more people seeing and sharing your content. That means more people looking to you to provide future content.
  3. You can’t keep conversations around your content on your site, but you can go out there and become part of the conversation. If you want what you’re doing to work, this is a necessity. 
  4. Don’t try to maintain that journalistic veneer of professionalism. Put simply: When the newspapers do less in depth coverage then the bloggers, you’re all on the same level. If you distance yourself from your readers, it means you don’t care about them. Then they don’t care about you and they don’t care about your content. Then they’re gone. The web is the great leveler, take advantage of it!
That’s it, all that’s left is to paraphrase Neo – “Free your content!” Sharing, remixing, reusing, commenting, mashing it all up, this creates an environment that is beneficial for everyone. You are on the internet (and no, you don’t have a choice, you have to be on the internet), you don’t control your content, that’s just the way it works. If you fight that, it only hurts you and your readers. The traffic is yours to lose.
PS: I bet Allen Stern got a serious up-kick in his traffic from this whole deal. :P

Edit: You can find more conversation around this blog at: Social | Median and FriendFeed.

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