Why I believe in the link economy

By Reuters Staff
August 4, 2009

The following is a guest column by Chris Ahearn, President, Media at Thomson Reuters.

“Do unto others”

It’s a simple standard my mom taught me when I was a kid – yours probably taught it too. It isn’t always easy, but in business it’s a good guiding light if you don’t want your company to be evil.

Recently there has been a rising crescendo of finger-pointing, shrieking, braying and teeth-gnashing about the future of the news. In the last couple of weeks there have been many comments on the AP’s proposals, Attributor’s proposals, Ian Shapira’s story and fair use.

After some of the AP commentary, I posted a tweet directed at Jeff Jarvis that prompted some members in the community to ask me to be more outspoken, asking me to be blatant about it, to post a public statement. For those who know me, I usually don’t need to be asked.

To start, yes the global economy is fairly grim and the cyclical aspects of our business are biting extremely hard in the face of the structural changes. But the Internet isn’t killing the news business any more than TV killed radio or radio killed the newspaper. Incumbent business leaders in news haven’t been keeping up. Many leaders continue to help push the business into the ditch by wasting “resources” (management speak for talented people) on recycling commodity news. Reader habits are changing and vertically curated views need to be meshed with horizontal read-around ones.

Blaming the new leaders or aggregators for disrupting the business of the old leaders, or saber-rattling and threatening to sue are not business strategies – they are personal therapy sessions. Go ask a music executive how well it works.

A better approach is to have a general agreement among community members to treat others’ content, business and ideas with the same respect you would want them to treat yours.

If you are doing something that you would object to if others did it to you – stop. If you don’t want search engines linking to you, insert code to ban them.

I believe in the link economy. Please feel free to link to our stories — it adds value to all producers of content. I believe you should play fair and encourage your readers to read-around to what others are producing if you use it and find it interesting.

I don’t believe you could or should charge others for simply linking to your content. Appropriate excerpting and referencing are not only acceptable, but encouraged. If someone wants to create a business on the back of others’ original content, the parties should have a business relationship that benefits both.

Let’s stop whining and start having real conversations across party lines. Let’s get online publishers, search engines, aggregators, ad networks, and self-publishers (bloggers) in a virtual room and determine how we can all get along. I don’t believe any one of us should be the self-appointed Internet police; agreeing on a code of conduct and ethics is in everyone’s bestinterests.

Our news ecosystem is evolving and learning how it can be open, diverse, inclusive and effective. With all the new tools and capabilities we should be entering a new golden age of journalism – call it journalism 3.0. Let’s identify how we can birth it and agree what is “fair use” or “fair compensation” and have a conversation about how we can work together to fuel a vibrant, productive and trusted digital news industry. Let’s identify business models that are inclusive and that create a win-win relationship for all parties.

This is not code for some hidden agenda – it is an open call for collective problem solving. Let’s do it wiki-style and edit it in the public domain. Let’s define the code of conduct and ethics we would all like to operate under.

My suggestion is we start with “do unto others” as our guiding spirit – I bet it would make all of our mothers proud.

Post your comments below (good, bad or ugly) or send me an email. You can reach me directly at chris.ahearn@thomsonreuters.com or via twitter @cjahearn.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

re: Maggie McIntyreI think you are correct – I should have expressed the sentiment with … at the end or used the complete phrase. Thanks for pointing it out

Posted by Chris Ahearn | Report as abusive

In business as in life, “the more the merrier” is the most profitable! Murdock is cutting of his nose to spite his face. The more clicks, the move valuable the advertising in net-world. For some greedy creeps that is not enough…so they will end up with little.

Posted by Sara | Report as abusive

I’m glad someone gets it.

Posted by earls | Report as abusive

It’s a good story, but Reuters never bothers linking out to anyone else…it’s always, “as reported by WSJ” or “according to Blog X.” Yes they attribute, but they don’t link to the source.When MSM links out to smaller websites and blogs, then we’ll be getting somewhere…

Posted by Colin | Report as abusive

If only the U.S.congress could agree to live by the same rules and laws they create.”Do unto others”!!!

Posted by DK | Report as abusive

Mr. Ahearn, you get it!I will now link to a Reuters story rather than an AP story.

Posted by Jonno | Report as abusive

Two thoughts. First, I agree that digitization of any information has the potential to be widely disseminated at little to no cost to the consumer. Whether it’s top secret material released illegally or music, once digitized there is risk of this occurring. A new way of researching, reporting and distributing news must be found because none of the current models are working.I believe the primary issue will be the desire for income by all parties involved in making the information available and demonstrated resistance by consumers to pay. There will be any number of political issues – new definitions of roles that may be evolving, ethics and attribution to name a few – that will arise. But I think they will be background for the battle over money.It’s only right that the people who devote their time and talent to collect and report the news should be compensated. But I keep reading the same weary line about advertising dollars or paid subscription models as the only income options. We don’t want the government to dictate the news so maybe those of us who want, need, desire, and must have reliable news need to find a way to pay as much as the news providers need to find a way and someone to charge. This isn’t optional – if we want news we are going to have to pay for it one way or another.Which brings me to my second point. How does Reuters survive during this time? I admit to knowing nothing about the company’s business model. But I suspect they are not immune to the same financial issues plaguing many information companies. I applaud their encouragement of linking and excerpting their product and I understand that the links increase income from ads but is it enough? Or is Reuters so well-situated that current income isn’t a concern? It sounds like Reuters is riding in on a white horse but I long ago learned that it’s not the color of the horse or the hat, it’s the soundness of the heart that matters.Ahearn’s comments are the first I’ve found from someone taking a broad view of new terrain and suggesting a meeting of all the players or their representatives before deciding how to proceed. It is essential that this happen soon because reliable news is critical.The old foundation is crumbling fast; I hope that a better foundation will replace it, soon.

Posted by Dulcimera | Report as abusive

Nice words, Chris, but have you figured out how to actually make any money for Reuters in this new link economy? Or is running a business that actually makes money an “old economy” concept? I guess as long as you make money for yourself and bloggers like you . . . .

Posted by EK | Report as abusive

There seems to be a lot of talk that is more about self preservation taking place with the lament by mainstream journalists when they discuss the decline of news profitability and need to preserve good journalism.On the other hand, the internet has opened up a whole barrage of would be journalists who rarely get opportunities within the mainstream media now able to express their point of view.Journalism has two facets. The reporting of news and the publication of opinion.Anyone and everyone has an opinion. There is nothing to say only the opinion of those employed in the mainstream is of value while the rest is not. The internet has become the great equalizer. Opinion makers are now a dime a dozen, as it should be.

Posted by Rasmuncher | Report as abusive

At this point, I completely agree with your concept of “link economy.” However, it was the news media that killed itself by going completely free online. Google became a $20 billion company on the back of news media shrinking by $20 billion.

The first rule of winning in a conflict is to get the other side to “talk” as much as you can. Chris is obviously well trained. What I don’t hear are his specific ideas for what will work. No ideas? Seriously? Really? Not likely. He’s just waiting to be able to present them in the most favorable light. This isn’t a conversation starter. It’s a political gambit.

Posted by no | Report as abusive

Thanks for your comments. I hope they prevail in the industry. Those of us who run collector sites are not looking to “steal” anyone’s content. If anything, I think we help drive more people to the source site. I try to use other collectors like Daily Beast and Huff Post, but if I want to share an interesting article from somewhere else, I always attribute where it came from. I will start looking at Reuters much more often from now on. Thanks!

I agree totally, it should be a way that we can help each other in the New Age Digital marketplace, as Print is almost gone what is AP going to do when the Bloggers, are the number one source for information. People are spending around 85% of their free time in front of, you guess it, a computer not a television, and surely not reading some printed paper!With various organizations with Blogs, RSS Feeds, and content agreements open enough for the small players to build upon it only helps the overall community to have the content in various sources with what is know as a pingback, or comment pingback, so that the community has further reach and more comments on the news, opinions that matter, opinions that would not normally be seen or heard other than the Internet.Thank you so much for your article I feel inspired now that someone in the industry actually is coming into the 21st Century instead of staying in the 18th…..

Posted by Rodney Payne | Report as abusive

What a sensible attitude! I’m bookmarking your news site, so if I refer to a current event I can link to somebody who’ll appreciate the traffic.(See how this works, AP? I would never have thought to distinguish between news sources if you hadn’t started this. And so what if I’m just a little fish? Enough of us doing the same thing can have a big effect!)

Chris Ahearn’s view fits hand and glove with the Hiawatha Triad proposal for Website 3.0, using the MIT Collaboratorium and linking Sustainable Local Enterprise networks to elevate the less economically advantaged. Another year or so and it might be worth some column inches.

get em!

Posted by ccluskin | Report as abusive

It’s common courtesy amongst journalists to cite a source (“According to a report in Reuters…”). The web further extends the courtesy by being able to link to the source, so people can get the background and the “content creator” gets an extra reader.The only real issue I can see is with the extent of the quoting. But that is already covered by jurisprudence.

“But the Internet isn’t killing the news business any more than TV killed radio or radio killed the newspaper. “That’s what I say. I use Michael Jackson as an example. TV didn’t kill his music, it made him a star.You can either stay with the old “news” model and get left behind, or change with the times and move forward.

I’m a former print journalist turned blogger who often writes about poliotics and world events. The Associated Press’ new litigious attitude toward the online use of its content is as wrong-headed as that of the recording industry toward online music file sharers.I, for one, am certainly appreciative of Reuters’ more realistic approach to online media. Indeed, my blog articles — which are syndicated by BlogBurst and Newstex — often appear verbatim on Reuters’ own Web site, even when they contain Reuters material (always accompanied, of course, with the proper attibution credit).

Long live Reuters !

yeah, who are you with, the NWO or the people. the NWO won’t save you. i am referring specifically to the attempts by google to subdue or eliminate viral information that is “inconvenient” to the NWO.whatever is happening on this planet earth must be dealt with holistically. we are lurching towards some change-point coming very fast. steven jobs managed to bridge the past and future at apple. it’s a wide-open future and it seems the dindosaur forces have had their day.

Posted by tom paine | Report as abusive

Way to go Reuters. Thank you!

Posted by Sunseeker | Report as abusive

Actually, any attempt by established media to enforce “rights” and charge for links to them is hilarious, and just shows how out of touch they are. Its partly American-led thinking, where a powerful but bankrupted country is doing all it can to retain power and control, and labelling that as “freedom”, as if they own the term. Much of the rest of the world is unimpressed, if not downright disgusted in some places. The internet is free, and their pathetic attempts to assume power over it will fail. They are better to get with the 21st century, and adopt a realistic approach as suggested by Chris Ahearn.You cant send an aircraft carrier into cyber space to “restore order, freedom and rights for its citizens”. Better try something else, or change your thinking.

Great to hear!Erecting walls around sacred content won’t help, but using the content as a baseline and then hooking people through services on top will help. Bundling with other products is one easy way to start, there are others.More on the theme here: http://threedimensionalpeople.com/2009/0 8/3d-contentDo keep up the blogging.Stephen

Dear Writer,After reading of your article and wide responses from readers shows that,fine for discussions.What you said is true to certain extents.There should be self,transparent codes for web journalism.Always repeating the same events by all media networks.Old wine in a same bottle,only lid had been changed.There are lot of day today topics from this vast universe has not been covered by these journalists,reporters and even from world notable figures in writing fields.Here after,there will be changes in writing ,fair reporting for all benefits.Freedom of expressions to be always goal for any independent journalist.Very great profession with great clarity for enriching and upholding ethics of journalism.Thanks for giving an opportunity for sharing of my views with you through this news website.Hope to get more updates from you in twitter social website.With best wishes.,


excellent article. I agree with you fully that there should be a symbiotic relationship and bloggers should not leach content but instead enhance or promote it. Now if we could get all bloggers to respect content providers it may be easier to get content providers to loosen up on bloggers.

Hi there, admin can I utylize a little of the info from this article if I provide a link back to your website ?

Posted by centrum | Report as abusive

Whoa. A. no noun containing the word link, will ever be attached to a viable economic system. Fortunately (well kind of) you didn’t really mean economy did you? B. Believing in things is dead. But I don’t mean that in the cutoff jeans way. I mean that the market will always be composed almost entirely of people who are influenced by media, not convinced by argument, the very small portion that is convinced by argument probably either doesn’t care about your opinion, disagrees with it and knows exactly why, or has already come to that conclusion themselves.


Posted by RealJake | Report as abusive

Also, centrum. There is this whole meticulous mechanism called citation. He published, its out there, the info is up for grabs as long as you cite it properly, you don’t have to ask permission.

Posted by RealJake | Report as abusive