Who owns the news ? The ongoing debate between news outlets ( AP, NYTimes..) and mash ups ( Google news..)  has made this question surface. Is the first one reporting the news the owner of that news ? That used to be the accepted tradition.

Now with Twitter, Facebook, im , sms, blogs and Attention Deficit Disorder ( ADD) at all time high, it is almost impossible to say who was the first to report it. The written word has the weakness of being very volatile and impersonal ( not linked to the person who wrote it ). No one really remembers where and when they read an article about a news item. What matter is the story itself, not where it was reported.

Difficult to own any news, under these circumstances.

Some news can be owned. Great interviews, for examples. Those that reveal something new ( I beleive a whole movie was recently made about an historical interview ). The journalist creates the news and thus can claim ownership of it.

Photography is different. Many, many examples show us that the photograph is the news. Without the image, there would be no news. The photograph has to travel with the information to make it news. Thus, ownership is much clearer.

Why does it matter ? because the internet is all about  content. It is the raw material that fuels website. Twitter or Facebook, two of the hottest website these days, along with Google or Myspace would not be anything without content. Thus the owner of the content is the real powerhouse here, not the technology operator.

There are two types of of news photographers:

Those who report and those who create news. Those who report are those that will go at a press conference, shoot a few head shots with a microphone and file the story. They do not own the news, they just merrily illustrate it. They call themselves news photographers but they are only news illustrators. Their live is filled with events to cover, at a certain place and at a certain time.They can never claim to be the owner of a news item.

Then there is the photojournalists. They have no idea what they will cover next because, like  real journalists, they ignore press releases and agendas. They want and need to break the news. They will find a story and write about it with their camera.. The story becomes their photograph. They can even make news within a news. There are many example during the Vietnam war, for example. They didn’t discover the war, they discovered how it was made.. and shocked the world in the process.

Whoever owns the raw material ( remember Rockefeller ?)  is in power. If you can’t, owning the channel of distribution , you know the pipelines, is second best ( Google and Getty images know that very well). Because of the extreme dilution of the raw material ( think User generated Content), it is quasi impossible to have a monopoly on the raw material itself. However, there is no problem with owning the distribution channels.

The interesting challenge here is when ownership of the raw material ( think photography here) will come back on the hands of the creators. When copyright can be tracked much better?  When the flow of images is no longer controlled by the pipeline owners ? Will that ever happen ?

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