By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A brewing media battle in Newton

A potential battle is shaping up over the Boston Globe’s plans to start a hyperlocal Newton site on that could feature, among other things, content from the weekly Newton Tab.

“This is just the latest move from the 800-pound gorilla in the market, which is currently weighing in at 200 pounds,” GateHouse Media New England publisher Kirk Davis tells Amy Derjue at Boston Daily. GateHouse, a national chain based in suburban Rochester, N.Y., owns about 100 newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts, including the Tab.

Davis adds: “We’re not surprised the Globe would like to play in our sandbox.”

Although it’s not entirely clear what the Globe’s got planned for Newton, a report by Chuck Tanowitz suggests that the paper will display headlines and summaries from Newton blogs and from the Tab.

It’s possible that the Globe will make everyone a winner by driving traffic to those sites. But it’s also possible that, for some stories, the headline and summary is all most people are looking for, which means they’ll stay at The stakes are high: both the Globe and GateHouse are trying to sell advertising on their local Web sites.

Depending on how the Globe proceeds, it could find itself facing copyright-infringement issues on two grounds:

  • GateHouse publishes its online content under a Creative Commons license, which allows other Web sites to republish stories as they see fit — a boon to bloggers. But GateHouse’s license specifically prohibits commercial use, which would seem to rule out the Globe.
  • Copyright law allows anyone to publish small snippets of someone’s content under the doctrine of fair use. A good example of that would be Google News. But the Globe might find itself challenged on the grounds that though it’s only taking a little bit, it’s nevertheless taking the most important and marketable part.

When I wrote about this over the weekend, GateHouse’s director of digital publishing, Howard Owens, posted a comment in which he said, “I think we need to have a little chat with Bob Kempf.” Kempf, now a top executive with, was a key player in developing GateHouse’s Wicked Local sites.

While the GateHouse folks appear to be gearing up for battle, we haven’t heard much from On Sunday the Globe’s regional editor, David Dahl, sent an e-mail to let me know the Globe would be making an official announcement later this week. I told him I’d welcome comments from him and other Globe executives. So far, though, they’re maintaining their silence.

For those of us who care about local journalism, it’s painful to watch two financially challenged giants battling over a shrinking advertising base. On Monday the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Co., reported that the value of its New England holdings continues to plummet. GateHouse was recently delisted by the New York Stock Exchange, although its revenues appear to be holding up reasonably well.

It’s possible that once the Globe announces its plans, we’ll see that this is much ado about nothing. But this bears watching.

Photo of Newton City Hall and the Newton Free Library (cc) by the Newton Free Library and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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  1. O-FISH-L

    Dan, it sounds like what is trying to do is mimic the Drudge Report on the local level. That raises the question if the Gate House prohibition against commercial use of their content is pretty standard in the industry, how does Drudge get away with what he does? I mean, he makes big money from advertisers so isn’t he a commercial use? Just curious.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: It’s rare when Drudge runs anything but the headline, so most news orgs are probably happy to get a Drudge link. What GateHouse fears (and we don’t know if those fears are valid, since we haven’t seen the Globe’s Newton site) is that the Globe will run the headline and the lede or a brief summary, thus taking most of the value for itself.Kind of like Google News — and you’ll notice that Google doesn’t run any ads on that page. Although I would think that, overall, Google News is driving more traffic to news orgs than it’s taking away from them.

  3. Michael Pahre

    While you here delve into the linking to MSM content, the Globe seems also to be talking about linking to independent blog content — although that probably raises fewer red flags in people’s minds.The Globe already does this in a limited way on the homepage. Scroll down to “NEW ENGLAND BLOGS” on the right-hand-side, and you’ll find a link, changed two or three times a day, to local blog content.Whenever has linked to my blog (which provides “hyper-local” coverage in Brighton), I saw a few hundred (200-500) click-throughs as a result of that half-day feature. I can only guess that the Globe’s hyper-local websites would each produce substantially less click-through traffic than this. (The homepage no doubt sees much more traffic than these hyper-local aggregators will.)A few hundred (at most) click-throughs at a time are not much of a revenue stream for the bloggers / WickedLocals to cash in on in exchange for the potential copyright issues raised by the process (depending on how handles aggregating content).

  4. adamg

    Does this mean Kirk has ordered his editors to stop linking to Globe stories?Instead of complaining about the Globe, perhaps Gatehouse could do what we used to do back in the day: Beat them at their own game. If anybody knows Newton, it’s the Tab folks. Build a better mousetrap and all that.

  5. bostonmediawatch

    Chuck’s piece said this:”Main site – Each site will have an editor, but that editor’s job will be to crawl all the local blogs and content sources (such as other newspapers) to present a link and a paragraph or so about the news. This main page will be updated about 2 times a day, with more updates if there is a breaking local story.”and this:”The folks insist that they will be driving traffic and ultimately helping other sites.”Sounds to me like they are going to have an “editor” whose job consists of re-writing headlines, linking the headlines to the source, and then maybe summarizing the story.While I agree with Dan that summarizing the story takes some (maybe a lot) of the value out of the link to the source, I don’t believe that that approach gets anywhere near copyright infringement, at least when it concerns bona fide news.Facts (ie. news) are not copyrightable. Neither are story ideas. 90% of the blogosphere is rehash and the other 10% is apparently about knitting.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Bostonmediawatch: We’ll see this could be completely benign. The Globe could also be revising its plans even as we speak, given the outcry. I’m curious to know how this is going to work. Obviously I want to see both the Globe and the GateHouse papers succeed financially, and they’re not doing a very good job of it at the moment.

  7. Derek

    What a nauseating little stunt the Globe is trying to pull here. I can’t tell what bothers me more — the Globe dipping its sickly fingers into local journalism, or that this is yet another of the paper’s steps out of the city and into the suburbs. Boston’s newspaper of record has shown us repeatedly it doesn’t care about city politics or local culture or community affairs. What a waste.

  8. Peter Porcupine

    DK – this whole set-up sounds a LOT like Cape Cod Today ( They run ads, and have even hired a professional, Jim Kinsella, to do the editing of headlines as described above. Walter is occasionally warned off of news outlets – ironically, including the Globe – as his is a commercial site.

  9. bostonmediawatch Herald article said today"Basically, the Globe will search out interesting stories, write and post a few graphs online and then link to the site where they found the content."In Europe, Google was found to have violated copyright simply by posting links.U.S. law is more lenient; nobody considers a URL to be copyrightable.The relevant statute is 17 USC 107:===================================§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair useNotwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.===================================I don't know for sure, but I'd guess Google News has agreements with the sources from which it uses verbatim snippets. And it doesn't carry ads on that page.However, I'd say if the Globe does the same thing as capecodtoday, GateHouse would have strong grounds to challenge it under points 1, 3, and 4 of 17 USC 107.Of course, they'd first have to make a judgment that it was costing them money, not helping them.And if the Globe "editor" re-writes the headline and summarizes the story, then I doubt there's much of a case.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    BMW: GateHouse can’t stop the Globe from blogging. I think the big fear over there is that the Globe intends a comprehensive guide to all Newton content, including just about every damn story in the Tab.I’d be very surprised if the Globe goes that far. But I guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

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