Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Slate piece: 'Collusion Course: Does today's hush-hush meeting of newspaper executives violate antitrust law?'

I have a new piece in Slate discussing the antitrust implications of recent meetings of newspaper execs at which they discussed the possibility of charging for online content. A taste:
The newspaper world has temporarily diverted its gaze from its collective navel to Rosemont, Ill. That's where, reports James Warren in the Atlantic, top executives from major papers have gathered to plot the future of their business. Machers from, among others, the New York Times, Gannett, E.W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises, and Freedom Communication Inc. were scheduled to gather for a "discreet" "discussion about content models," including the possibility of charging for Web content. This comes barely a month after a similar meeting in San Diego, where CEOs at the "Newspaper Association of America convention [held] a clandestine meeting to discuss, among other topics, whether and how to start charging readers to view articles and other content online."

Warren likens the Rosemont confab to the Yalta conference or, perhaps, the infamous 1957 mob summit in Apalachin, N.Y. But if the news honchos aren't very, very careful, the more apt analogy may be a 1994 meeting in a Hawaii hotel room at which representatives of agricultural-products giants gathered under the guise of a trade-association meeting to fix prices for a chemical called lysine—a story that ended up with federal criminal convictions and Archer Daniels Midland and others paying hundreds of millions of dollars in fines (not to mention a movie starring Matt Damon).
Go read the whole thing. And click on some ads, so they don't have to start charging for access (again).


  1. Would some of these media companies really be considered competitors if they are not covering the same area? Is a small newspaper in Oregon really a competitor with a small newspaper in Georgia?

  2. "Is a small newspaper in Oregon really a competitor with a small newspaper in Georgia?"

    Probably not. But there's a good argument that there's a single market for web-based national and international news. The LA Times, NY Times, WSJ, USA Today, and a number of other major papers compete on the web.


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