Losing on the Field, Old Media Tries to Change the Rules

Everybody agrees that it’s best to win the game on the field.  But for some teams, that plan just doesn’t work out.

Take old media, for example.

For years and years, links have, for lack of a better objective measure, been the de facto measuring stick for online content.  Inbound links have played a major role in search engine results.  More links result in a higher the placement on search result pages.  It’s not a perfect system, but it’s all we have.  And there are no built in advantages that favor one content producer over another.

But now some old media want to change the game.  They think their content should be favored over blog content.  Ignoring for a moment the very important fact that the distinction between blogs and other content platforms has largely disappeared over the past few years, this is one of the most ludicrous things I’ve read in months.

For starters, isn’t it odd that big, resourceful, rich old media is asking for a handicap when playing an online scramble against what old media has long viewed as amateur publications?  Isn’t this like Michael Jordan asking to start with 10 in a game to 21?  Or like the New York Times asking that a high school newspaper be printed with invisible ink?  I mean, come on!

Just because what started out as weblogs and evolved into a new form of media- a form which, interestingly, has been appropriated by lots of old media- is beating some old media publications at their own game is no basis for a rule change.  This smacks of the same logic vacuum evidenced by the record labels when, after realizing they couldn’t monopolize it, they tried to kill digital music distribution.

The fact that old media shot itself in the foot by electing to give away- and thereby devalue- its product is a little sad.  Maybe it would make a nice movie on the Lifetime Channel.  But in no way, shape or form should Google or anyone else rewrite the rules to favor those who don’t want to compete on the merits.

Sure, search results aren’t always perfect.  But anyone who uses Google or any other search engine more than infrequently knows how to instantly zoom past the static and zero in on the best results.  The fact that I and many others look for the Wikipedia link says tons about who does and does not get the web.

But there is a lurking point to be made by old media.

What is slightly less absurd and much more interesting is the effect of republishing or discussing content, even with attribution.  Here’s what I mean by that.  Despite his social media-frenzy-induced abandonment of his blog for the so called social networks, Steve Rubel still has a lot of readers.   I saw the link above in my feed reader this evening, and first read about this issue on Steve’s blog.  Nat Ives wrote the original story at AdvertisingAge.  Through Steve’s link, I ultimately made my way to Nat’s story (see link above).  But many people will probably first see the story at and link to Steve’s post.  If Steve gets more links to his post discussing Nat’s post, who deserves the most Google juice?  If I understand the argument, old media is saying the publication that wrote the original story, in this case AdvertisingAge, should get the most Google juice.

Nice idea in theory.  But there’s no algorithm in the world that can effectively parse where an idea started.  And let’s be real for a moment- the AdvertisingAge piece didn’t create the issue.  It merely reported what was said by other people at other places.  It’s not like every news piece is a novel.

Old media needs to worry about winning on the existing field and by the current rules.  Not trying to create an artificially uneven field and a new set of self-serving rules.