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Sunday, March 07, 2010

Cincinnati Enquirer Editor Declares War On Content Parasites: 'We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore'

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Of course, he seems to have swiped the line from a movie script. The editor of Ohio's third largest newspaper said in a Sunday column that the Gannett Co. Inc. property is using technology "that scours the media landscape for illegal use of our content." Cease and desist commmunications reportedly have been sent to blogs, radio stations and Websites. Yet none were identified -- which means the Enquirer is sitting on a huge story framed against the Internet, the free flow of information and intellectual property rights. Editor Tom Callinan also borrowed -- without crediting the source -- the "mad as hell" line from the 1976 film Network, a movie that won an Oscar for Peter Finch. In Callinan's appropriation of the line, he altered it only slightly by adding "we" in place of the screenplay's "I'm." Perhaps a studio in Hollywood is scouring, too. Meanwhile, there is little known about the Gannett-owned newspaper's threatened legal actions against the unnamed pirates alleged to have taken its content without permission:

"We're no longer willing to idly watch our good efforts stolen . . . In recent weeks, we have sent warnings to several blogs, Web sites and radio stations. We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore."

But what of others who may have had their material recycled in the Enquirer? For example, the Sunday sports section -- the same edition of the paper in which Callinan's declaration of war appears -- contains a quote from Cleveland Browns President Mike Holmgren. The quote dates back to late February when it originally appeared in other newspapers and Websites. Holmgren's remark is about Tim Tebow, the University of Florida star who is hoping to become a high draft pick in the NFL's quarterback selection process. Holmgren wondered about Tebow's delivery, his throwing style. Here's the Cleveland Browns president's quote from the March 7 Enquirer sports section: "It's always been my opinion that that's the most difficult thing to change in any quarterback. I've read he's got a number of guys coaching him up on that and he's trying to change it, but it's really hard to do, I think. Particularly in pressure situations."

But that quote didn't originate in the March 7, 2010 Enquirer. It is all over the Internet. The Akron Beacon Journal's Maria Ridenour used a truncated version of Holmgren's remark on Feb. 27, which is 10 days before it showed up in the Enquirer. The quote was on the Feb. 26 version of the Seattle Seahawks team Website. Actually, there are some 836 references to the quote that turn up in a Google search. None of this is to suggest that the Enquirer stole the quote. It is meant to suggest that Holmgren's remark was widely circulated, and even appeared under copyright as content in several news and Web sites before finding its way into the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer. It was neither fresh nor new in the universe of sporting news. The Houston Chronicle -- which claims a February 26 copyright on the Holmgren comment -- would look silly sending a cease and desist letter to Cincinnati.
[UPDATE: 6:16 pm: Tom Callinan and I have now exchanged e-mails. I won't publish the verbatim version of his reply. My e-mail can be seen below. But it appears he is informing me that he does not consider the content parasites to be a significant problem for the newspaper after all. His private communication seems to run totally counter to what his column said today. He noted that radio stations aren't really problematical. He would not name any violators. The radio stations don't have much of a news staff in this economic climate. He said he would not out any of the blogs or people that the Enquirer has a problem with because the problem often goes away without much head butting. He said the Enquirer uses a program called Attributor to track down possible offenders. Here is what I wrote to the Enquirer's editor: "I found your column quite interesting and have posted about it on The Daily Bellwether. I wonder if you would be willing to identify those who have gotten warnings for stealing content. That is huge news. You have covered similar disputes in the paper between record companies and downloaders. There does not seem to be any reason why this issue should not be aired in the Enquirer's pages, or online. I would be willing to publish the letters if you would give them to the Daily Bellwether. That would be strange, obviously, because the Enquirer is in the middle of the story. You have publicly said thievery is taking place, but you haven't said who the thieves are. You have tarred a lot of competing media -- blogs, radio stations, Websites. Anyhow, thanks for your time. I think you have raised an important issue. I think you should disclose more and be more transparent." ]
[UPDATE 2 - 3/8/2010 9:44 am: The Cincinnati Beacon reacts to Callinan's column. It notes that there is plenty of derivative work floating around the journalistic sphere in Cincinnati, and that the Enquirer might be doing some poaching of its own from blogs and other outlets. From the Beacon: "So, Mr. Callinan, let’s tone down the rhetoric a bit. People shouldn’t steal your stuff, but before you talk about parasites and your hard work, let’s take a bit of a reality check, okay?"]
[UPDATE 3 - 3/9/2010 5:52 pm: Larry Gross weighs in today and points out Gannett's local version of Metromix tried a pickpocket job on Cincinnati's alt/weekly CityBeat earlier this year. Talk about content parasites. It was a raid of the corporate kind; something that could have been dreamed up by Wall Street banksters. CityBeat has been running an annual Best of Cincinnati contest for years. Metromix tried to horn with its own best of. CityBeat raised cane and got the best of Metromix, which slunk away from its copycatting.]
[UPDATE 4 - 3/10/2010 9:52 am: CityBeat's Kevin Osborne shows that the Enquirer is selling ads and making a profit from an advertiser accused of wrongfully appropriating material from the PBS series called Antiques Roadshow. The Enquirer's conduct, the Cincinnati CityBeat writer contends, puts Editor Tom Callinan's claim of victimization from "content parasites" on thin ground. In other words, the Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper is raking in money from someone that WGBH in Boston is suing in federal court for alleged trademark violations.]


  1. The Enquirer's "First in Print" campaign reeks of a desperate push to sell subscriptions. Other people and myself were mad as hell ourselves when the Enquirer gave away stories free on the Internet what we were paying for in print. Now that they've reversed course, it's too late. They got us hooked on the free stuff.

  2. NumbersCruncherMarch 08, 2010 7:42 AM

    Stripped down, hollow newspapers with content ripped off the wire. No news there.

  3. I don't really get what the point of the Enquirer plan is. Some stories won't be put on the Internet until after they have appeared in print. Yet other stories will go on the Internet before they appear in print. It sounds like they are trying to protect content, or keep in in the newspaper first. Yet everything eventually goes online. Huh? I also am of the opinion that the broadbrush attack on blogs, Websites and radio stations as content stealers is totally unfair. It is a cheap shot, probably from the marketing department to slap down rivals. The truth is that Tom Callinan falsely painted online competitors as pirates who steal his product. He doesn't name the alleged violators.