George Brock subverts The Times paywall by 'stealing' his own article

 by Martin Belam, 19 July 2010

An interesting blog post from George Brock today, who has republished in full an article of his that had been placed behind The Times paywall. Brock says:

"Let's be clear why I doing this test. I'm not against charging for editorial content, just as I'm not against paying cash for a printed paper. Copywright belongs to the paper since the review was commissioned and submitted normally."

He goes on to argue that:

"A newspaper website is simultaneously a rolling news site and a huge data mountain, an encyclopaedia of current affairs, frequently updated. While a newspaper has a legal right to restrict access to all of that material as one whole bundle, this can't be the best way to go in the future. If charging is going to be part of the survival of quality journalism, something more flexible and agile is required. Digital technology allows journalism which was packaged together in print to be 'unbundled'."

His answer is to voluntarily 'unbundle' his own piece, a review of Clay Shirky's "Cognitive Surplus" book. One wonders what that will do to his chances of future commissions form the paper.

This is a stark contrast to how we are operating at The Guardian. If Brock had written the review and it had appeared on, he would have been able to republish it on his blog using the Open Platform API, similar to the way that Baby Barista does.

He'd have been able to reproduce it with a clear conscience about copyright, and the advertising & tracking code that the article carried would allow The Guardian to benefit from the republishing.

There is more than one model of getting people to pay for digital journalism online than the one-size-fits-all "extreme paywall" that Brock is trying to subvert.


(This is a paste-in of my recent comment in a topic which discussed the paywalling. It's relevant to this blog post and belongs to me as per Slashdot comment-ownership policy; so don't worry about any legal ramifications I might get for stealing my own work through a paywall, Mr. Belam.)

If its one thing I've learned in a few years of being involved in the journalistic's that so many people in it are pigheaded to the point of doing themselves a lot of damage to their potential success and reputation. This is true from editors, to rank and file columnists...and new graduates convert alarmingly to this mentality with a dissapointing number of exceptions.

Murdoch aside, the overriding truth of modern journalism both here in the UK and in the US is that quantity rules over quality. That's why every Saturday and Sunday we Britons cannot buy a 'quality broadsheet' without having to acquire a book's worth of text in supplements along with the actual newspaper itself. That one has to shell over £1.20 or so for a compendium of tripe that you mostly won't get around to reading is why journalism is failing.

Simply put there are too many people employed who may have begun with some talent, but have lapsed into a state of passive drudgery writing filler columns about inane topics most readers could not care less about. You can actually tell with a lot of them that the author wasn't really thinking as he or she typed it out. In short the 'news' of newspaper is absent in a woefully high proportion; yes there's room for editorials and quirky opinion pieces...but the proportions are way off right now.

This is true of all Murdoch rags, most starkly The Times which was a pioneer of supplements in the 1990s. Once, decades ago (pre-Murdoch), the Times led some of the most intriguing investigative departments in journalistic history - they spent months to break a story that would spread across what? Four pages or so of print? This level of work for that amount of journalism is unheard of today - that's because today it's all about cheap, easy stories that can be summed up mostly as: 'Churnalism' (a term coined by Guardian journo Nick Davies) . It began in earnest in the 1980s with Andrew Neil's Times, and the trend away from reportage which took effort, talent, dedication and downright brilliance to pull off is almost entirely absent in The Times of 2010.

There is hope for the profession, as wracked by disease as it is; online journalism has some good offerings where journalists actually leave the office and do some old school reporting. That Murdoch and a few others see their awful, soulless content as worthy of paying for online rather than just going for what's worked since the beginning (advertisements) is telling of their wrongheaded approach which led so many publications to become so degraded in quality.

That's all well and good but how much does the Guardian lose per year, again?

Out of interest Martin, are you in agreement with my interpretation of our trade in 2010?

This decade could be the start of seperating wheat from chaff: We could do with jettisoning a few boatloads of chaff to restore a touch of health to the work, no?

That is how we'll lose less; getting rid of crappy supplements and staff. A crap doctor or teacher wouldn't get by for long - why should journalism be any different?

Peter, the problem, it seems to me, is how you retain the credibility of the whole package if you start shedding things left, right and centre. On the average day I personally don't do the crossword, read much foreign news, or need a racing form guide or TV listings, but I feel comforted and reassured that the cover price was value for money as I flick past them and know that they are there...

Fair enough. But all of what you mentioned could comfortably be put into fifteen pages or less and included in the newsrag proper. This was true prior to 20 years or so ago when Rusbridger and other 'quality' press geniuses thought up or were encouraged to put out supplements.

The cover price isn't value because most people just don't read the supplements. This illusion is one which has dogged the press for nearly 20 years; that if we chuck enough filler in it somehow adds up to something of value.

I'm not a farmer - I don't value a big pile of turd anymore than I value just a few stools. Oh they look a lot better than turd; but fancy art and layout is nothing compared to quality write-ups and stories.

Ironically it's supposed to be money for old actuality we have a bunch of people short on talent but long on waffle which is part of the reason why the entire profession suffers in its pigheaded fixation on 'more for your money'.

You'd have to pay me to leaf through G2, as half an hour of my time is worth considerably more than a cashless half hour spent reading that compendium of radge. I'd read Sport but only briefly since there's a lot of rubbish in that alongside the odd bit of half-decent analysis. All the others I'd just give to my Dad for kindling on his fire.

We old schoolers that actually go outside get ostracized; what's happening with certain blogs now is just full circle history repeating itself. People chipping at the massive, endless lode of great stuff neglected by the press because they can't be bothered leaving the office or the PA wire behind for even a few hours a day.

Your colleague at the Guardian Nick Davies says it better than I ever could.

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