See no AP, speak no AP, link no AP

I kept telling myself I was way too busy to compose a long, thoughtful piece about AP’s supremely boneheaded, wrongheaded, counterproductive and just plain stupid move to threaten to sue bloggers who quote and link to AP stories but don’t pay AP.

But I am never, ever too busy to vote.

So please count my vote in the NO AP column. Until further notice, I won’t be quoting or linking to AP stories in this blog – even if they are written by my friends whose work deserves credit and re-distribution. And I will encourage others to do the same.

As Jack Lail notes in his blog this morning, there are several stories out about the rift, and his list doesn’t include Amy Gahran’s dandy E-Media Tidbits piece, “AP v. Bloggers: Hurting Journalism?”

But the article that held my attention this morning is written by Christopher Sprigman, an associate professor of law at the University of Virginia School of Law, on the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy Blog.

Here’s his take:

… for some reason unfathomable to anyone with a lick of common sense, the Associated Press has decided that the blogs’ “quote and link” practice violates their copyrights. It’s hard to overstate what a senseless move this is for the AP. Nonetheless, it’s also true that unless everyone – the AP and bloggers alike – steps lightly here, copyright law could end up doing a lot of damage to both the blogs and the press. Let me explain . . .

Springman’s piece is worth a read and a re-read. And he has a call to action:

…We should reform copyright to require that plaintiffs in most cases be required, as an element of their prima facie case in an infringement lawsuit, to prove that they have been harmed. In a stroke, this reform would re-focus copyright on the task it is meant to perform: policing serious threats to the ability of content owners to profit from their work.

Amen!

As a veteran journalist, both print and online, I taught blogging last semester at the journalism school of University of Nevada, Las Vegas and (silly me) I taught the students that the most important issue on quotes is — or should be — all about attribution.

My playground rules for journalism include this:

  • No stealing other people’s stuff

I told the students that quoting people accurately and giving them credit, on the other hand, is a good thing.

And I know at least one person at the highest levels of the Associated Press agrees with me.

I had a hallway conversation at an APME conference in 2004 with Kathleen Carroll, Executive Editor and Senior Vice President of the Associated Press. We talked about her work as a very (very) young AP reporter on the 1979 Wichita Falls, Texas tornado, one of the most deadly in U.S. history, according to NOAA.

Carroll kicked butt on the tornado story (according to eyewitnesses including my journalist husband), but she still remembers that one newspaper in Dallas used her material without attribution in their story. Twenty-five years later, it still annoyed her.

The AP started as a cooperative, to distribute and re-distribute reporters’ and photographers’ work around the world.

As a young print reporter, I remember how thrilled I was when the AP picked up my stories. One article I wrote was distributed by the AP to three continents with my name on it. I know that for sure, because I got letters from across the U.S. and Africa and Europe, including one addressed simply to “Charlotte Lucas, Dallas Newsaper, USA.” God bless the Post Office who made sure the letter found my desk at the late, great Dallas Times Herald.

So now the AP wants bloggers to pay — per word! — and to give them credit and to promise not to say anything bad about anybody? (Forgive me for saying so, but that sure sounds more like a muzzle of my free speech than a copyright license.)

So what happens when the AP picks up something written by a blogger?

Does the blogger get paid by the word by the AP?

Did the AP follow its own guidelines when it picked up quotes from blogger Mayhill Fowler about Barak Obama’s now infamous use of the word “bitter”?

Here’s what the AP wrote about what Fowler wrote:

The Huffington Post Web site reported Friday that Obama, speaking of some Pennsylvanians’ economic anxieties, told supporters at the San Francisco fundraiser: “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years. And they fell through the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

I know. I just broke my rule.

So is the AP going to sue me for quoting them using the words they accurately quoted from a blogger?

Or are we all going to get together and figure out how to figure this out?

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Raising hell and having fun

So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it.

Lord, let your laughter ring forth.

Molly Ivins

I am one lucky journo.

So many times in the past 30 years I paused, looked up to the heavens, and thanked the stars that someone was actually paying me to do this fabulous journalism thing.

But as my friend Amy Gahran lamented today in her E-Media Tidbits column, that spirit is long gone from newspaper newsrooms today.

As I know from up-close and personal experience, many newsrooms have been poisoned by a hateful blend of slash, blame and holier-than-thou attitude.

May they all be encased in amber. Soon.

As my friend Molly Ivins once wrote, “I don’t so much mind that newspapers are dying – it’s watching them commit suicide that pisses me off.”

That’s not the culture that lured me into this business, but it is what drove me away.

Once again, though, I got lucky.

My students at UNLV are wonderfully enthusiastic about committing solid, ethical, world-changing and interesting journalism.

They are curious sponges, soaking up every “how-to” and “why” as fast as I can dish it out. They’re excited about experimenting with cell phones and useful tools with wacky names like Twitter and Netvibes and Utterz and Drupal. (Lookout guys, Ning‘s next!)

In this faux town, they chose grounded and interesting beats, including poverty, health and nutrition, women’s health, feminism, the diverse neighborhood near the university, celebrity philanthropy, animals, parking, podcasting, social networking, UNLV basketball, Rebel sports, street racing in Vegas, (update) a local’s guide to Vegas entertainment, a critical look at cosmetic surgery, the NFL Draft and the environment.

They understand that there may be no “man” to go work for, and that they are responsible for establishing their credibility, their brand.

Their stories are relevant, engaging, full of facts, context and staying power.

They are the future.

And ya’ know what, Molly?

We’re having fun!