An Open Letter to the UK's national, regional and local newspapers

Including: The Times, The Sun, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Daily Express

Tuesday 20 October 2009

From Struan Bartlett, Managing Director and Chairman, NewsNow

As you may know, people in some of your organisations have lately tried to characterise news aggregators as undermining your businesses. Recently your organisations have also sought to introduce new controls on our linking to your websites. Now, a number of parties have threatened us (plus other aggregators) with legal action if we do not either accept these new controls or else stop linking.

We are aware that many newspapers are facing severe financial challenges1 and are urgently seeking a way to return to profitability. We can understand why you are looking for options.

But we have had enough of indiscriminate attacks. To vilify all aggregators as “cheap worthless technological news solutions” 2 and “content kleptomaniacs” 3 is just empty rhetoric. Not only is that misleading — it is misguided.

We can’t speak for all aggregators but for our part at NewsNow, we don’t do anything that detracts from the value of your content. We don’t redistribute your web pages to anyone. We operate within the law, and we don’t do you any harm.

Far from it. We deliver you traffic and drive you revenues you otherwise wouldn’t have received. The idea that we are undermining your businesses is incorrect. It is fanciful to imagine that, if it weren’t for link aggregators, you would have more traffic or revenues. We provide a service that you do not: a means for readers to find your content more readily, via continuously updating links to a diversity of websites.

The truth is, if anything, it is the growth of the Internet itself — not link aggregation — that has undermined your businesses by destroying the virtual monopoly that you once held over the mass distribution of written news. If you are seeking to blame something for your current predicament, we suggest you start there. It is disingenuous to blame legitimate link aggregation websites like ours for your financial woes and it is misguided to attempt to control linking. This cannot be the way forward.

Linking is free, and links (and the sites that provide them) are at the heart of the Web. They are the means by which the Web works. We don’t think linking is something you can, or should be allowed to, control or charge for.

Nor should you want to control linking. Links market your content to readers. Abolish them, and readers won’t all type in your homepage address. They will go elsewhere. We don’t believe we are alone in this view. Many website traffic managers, journalists and editors within your own organisations clearly share this view. We know, because they’ve told us directly that they strongly value our linking to your websites.

Meg Pickard, head of social media development for Guardian News and Media, recently said: “We have an expression: ‘embrace, don’t replace’. If people like Twitter or Facebook, and like spending time there, then it’s crazy to say, ‘stop using Twitter or Facebook and come to the Guardian!’ We need to be there as well.”

We couldn’t agree more.

We’re in a new era now and there’s no turning the clock back. Readers are establishing new ways of finding their news — via linking. A business model that fights linking would be like fighting your readers and fighting the Internet — surely destined to end in failure.

We urge you to start listening to your own staff and readers. Accept you no longer have a virtual monopoly over the distribution of written news. Work with the Internet, rather than against it.

It’s in everyone’s interests that we restore amicable relations. We want to work with you to help promote your news and to drive readers to your websites, and help sustain a thriving news publishing industry.

We call on you to:

  1. stop the legal threats;
  2. recognise the place and value of legitimate news aggregation websites in today’s news ecosystem;
  3. commit to upholding the freedom to link; and
  4. support those of your readers who wish to find links to your websites on NewsNow.

I look forward to your response.

Yours sincerely,

Struan Bartlett
Managing Director and Chairman
NewsNow Publishing Limited


  1. Consider the recent threats to the existence of The Independent, or The Observer.
  2. Matt Kelly, Associate Editor of the Daily Mirror and, at conference in Prague, as reported in Editors Weblog
  3. Rupert Murdoch, Managing Director, News Corporation, speech in China as reported in The New York Times

Want more background information? Read our Free Linking Q & A.

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