OFF THE GRID

Mark Cuban Is a Big Fat Idiot—News Will Stay Free

Aug 12, 09 | 7:33 AM   byMichael Wolff
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I actually like Mark Cuban. In my experience almost nobody else does—they find him to be bumptious and arrogant and to have gotten rich by an unfair fluke (he had a company called Broadcast.com, which he sold at the top of the dot.com craze to Yahoo, and which fizzled shortly thereafter). But I find Mark—who has gone on to buy the Dallas Mavericks—to be a man who is living the life and clearly enjoying himself.

He is also a man of snappy, attention-deficit sort of opinions (some of which, for all I know, may be wise). His opinion the other day, to which, I assume, he gave his usual amount of consideration, involved Newser.

His position in the great debate about paid news versus free news is that one of the major enemies of news-gathering organizations is Newser and other aggregators. He flatly rejects the idea that aggregators often espouse: We’re doing a service to news organizations because a portion of our our readers click through to the original story. He does a bit of quick math to show that news organizations that have created the content make, in essence, nothing from aggregators. His solution is that official news sites should block aggregators—and that this will ultimately undermine our credibility. “When someone is sent from the site, let them fall on a page that lets them know that you don’t consider Newser.com a valid news or reference site,” he advises news organizations to remonstrate. “Newser.com has chosen to front end our content and we don’t appreciate it. As a result, we are blocking access,” he wants these mainstream news organizations to say.


(Mark Cuban, AP Photo)


He is right in one regard: People who go to aggregator sites don’t really click through to the original story. But he misses the profound and game-changing aspect of that fact: They don’t want to read the original story. Habits have changed on the Internet, where information comes faster and from many more sources. Hence, news needs to be short and it needs to be aggregated, which is precisely what brand-specific news sites lack: News from diverse outlets that can be consumed quickly. Here’s the rub: People don’t want news (there’s too much of that), they want aggregation (ie, efficiency and ease), which there isn’t enough of.

Oh, yes, and free.

Cuban misunderstands this, too—but he is hardly the only one.

The rap is that the Internet has committed some horrible evil by somehow turning news free—and, worse, getting news consumers to expect that it will be free.

Somebody’s smoking something: News has never been paid for. Practically speaking, it’s always been free. It may be that no one has ever in the history of time charged for anything other than the cost of production and delivery of news and usually not even that. The deal has been penny newspapers and free broadcast. News, Mark, has, is, and shall remain, an ad-sponsored form of media.

UPDATE: Mark Cuban responds.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.

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