A potential battle is shaping up over the Boston Globe’s plans to start a hyperlocal Newton site on Boston.com 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 Boston.com. 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 Boston.com, 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 Boston.com. 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.