"Channeling" PDF files and the battle for Googlespace

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I'm grateful to ktul.com, the website of Tulsa's ABC affiliate, for taking an interest in the Tulsa World's threats against this blog and other bloggers and websites. I was impressed that they were able to reach World publisher Bobby Lorton and get comment from him for this afternoon's story.

Here's what Lorton said in response to my statement that linking can't violate copyright, because nothing is being copied:

Lorton says Bates is opening a channel to PDF, or Portable Data Files, hosted on the Tulsa World website. Lorton says those files are owned by the Tulsa World and should not be free, but that they cannot lock the files.

"One way to stop it is to pull the PDF files, and I don't want to do that," Lorton said.

The World's website is unlike any other newspaper site with which I'm familiar. Some content -- theater listings, classifieds, and some special sections -- is free, but HTML-formatted versions of the articles from the current week are only accessible to subscribers. The firewall for current stories was added a few years ago; I forget exactly when. Before that, current stories were available without registration of any kind.

The World provides a selection of stories from each section in their wireless edition -- you don't need a subscription to access any of those stories.

Stories older than a week are in an archive which goes all the way back to 1989, and they cost 50 cents each (if bought in bulk). The same archive is available for free at Tulsa City-County Library branches. If you needed to search the World's archive, you could go to the library, do a search, then e-mail every story of interest back to yourself for later review at your leisure.

The World allows Student-Voices.org to publish the full text of a selection of their news stories and some editorials, mostly about local government. They have stories going back about a year. No subscription or registration is required to read these stories.

You also don't need a subscription to access PDF files of every page of every edition of the Tulsa World going back to sometime in early 2003. A Google search for PDF files on tulsaworld.com returned 3,510 results.

The World uses a simple naming convention that makes it easy to figure out the URL for the PDF file for any given page on any given day. If you wanted to, you could read the whole paper online by typing the URL for A-1 directly into the browser locator bar, then modifying the URL to read each successive page -- tedious but doable, and in my opinion, not worth the trouble. From time to time, someone will e-mail me a link to a PDF page, and I'll pull up the page and maybe blog about it. Most of the time, I'd rather just write about what I hear and see around town -- most big news reaches me long before the World goes to the presses.

E-mailing news stories -- either the full text or links -- has been a common occurrence since news stories were available on the web: "You were in the paper today." "Can you believe this?!?" "Interested in your thoughts about this." When the World firewalled their HTML content, then later began making PDFs freely available, people quickly figured out that a link to the PDF file was the best way to call someone's attention to a story in the paper. The recipient of the link didn't need to be a subscriber to read it, and unlike links to current stories, the link to the PDF file seemed to be permanent.

Providing a link to a freely-available file here and there is hardly "open[ing] a channel." If the World wanted to make the PDFs available only to their subscribers, they could achieve that goal. I won't say how -- that's their responsiblity -- but it isn't rocket science, and any decent webmaster could make it happen PDQ.

The question the World bigwigs need to ask themselves is, is it worth it? They have every right to protect their content as they see fit, but, by putting up roadblocks to their content, the World is losing influence in the public debate. The World is losing the battle for Googlespace.

Go to Google and enter "Bill LaFortune". A BatesLine link pops up on the first page of results. You will have to go to page 4 of the results to find the first Tulsa World link.

Go to Google and enter "Chris Medlock" -- BatesLine has the first two links. tulsaworld.com doesn't show up until page 2.

"Coalition for Responsible Government" -- KFAQ and BatesLine have the top three links. tulsaworld.com isn't there until page 2.

"Tulsa Metro Chamber" -- BatesLine is on page 1. tulsaworld.com doesn't show up until page 9.

So an Internet user, in Tulsa or elsewhere, who hits Google looking for some background info on "Tulsa politics" is going to find his way to BatesLine (top of results on that string) and read what I think, and may never find his way to tulsaworld.com to see what the Whirled's spinmeisters think, unless he reads an entry where I link to a news story or editorial, and follows the link to read the original piece, in its original context, as the World has chosen to make it available -- for free -- on the World Wide Web.

(I'll repeat my appeal to the Tulsa Beacon -- set up a blog and have volunteers enter every Tulsa news story and editorial from your archive, starting from last week's edition and working their way back to the first issue. It will make the Beacon an authoritative Internet source for information about local government.)

A growing number of people don't want to mess with newsprint and ink-stained fingers and having papers pile up. They want to get quickly to stories of interest, and they want to be able to clip and store articles of special interest in a way that they can easily be searched in the future. They also don't want to mess with cumbersome registration and logins -- thus the popularity of bugmenot.com. The World is losing these potential readers, and their children as well, for whom the notion of a paper on the doorstep will seem as quaint as home milk delivery does to Gen-Xers.

It doesn't help that the paper alienates a growing number of readers with its left-wing views on social issues, its staunch support for any and every tax increase, and its inability to appreciate the other side of the story when it comes to local politics. These potential readers are even less likely to care what the World has to say, especially if they have to pay for the privilege of finding out.

I like the idea of a future for Tulsa politics in which the World's influence dwindles to nothing. If I were Bobby Lorton, I might want to think about alternatives.


Dan said:

Michael, I have blogged about this development specifically, but have been unable to send a trackback successfully.

Here are my two cents.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 17, 2005 12:31 AM.

A conversation with the Whirled web editor was the previous entry in this blog.

Formerly new media, meet new-new media is the next entry in this blog.

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