Community media–or big company? The Oakland Tribune cease and desist letter

The fine and often cloudy line between big corporate media and grassroots community media came into sharp focus this week in Oakland, when the Bay Area News Group, now managed by Digital First and promising a new focus on all things community, issued a cease and desist letter to The Occupied Oakland Tribune, a volunteer effort from the Occupy Oakland movement.  I covered this story for my independent Oakland news non-profit, Oakland Local–and though it just said so much about where big media is today. (Alert: opinions follow).

Corporations need to protect their trademarks
.  Without a creative commons license, legal counsel at BANG surely felt they had to protect their trademark or risk diluting it. Ergo, C&d to the offenders, even if it’s a grassroots, volunteer organization.

One group doesn’t know what the other group is doing.  Who hasn’t worked for a big company at some point where the interests of one department slap right up against the interests of another? Surely no one bothered to tell Digital First/ANG honchos John Paton, Jim Brady or Steve Buttry about this letter, and maybe not BANG’s Randy Keith, either.

Is community media talk–or walk?  Can big newspapers stop seeing the community–and local media like Oakland Local or even OOT–as their competition and their enemies–and actually learn how to support independent voices? Let’s say the *new* Trib is trying-or likes to say its trying–and then ask how far that perspective goes and how many legal,financial and policy decisions it informs–and what’s just spin.

Unfortunately, if I worked at BANG in legal, I’d send that letter as well.  But if if worked at BANG in management, or at Digital First, I’d damn well want to make sure I heard–before it happened—about company plans that reached out in and affected grassroots community–so I wouldn’t be in the embarassing position–as one BANG staffer called it–of hosting talks with Occupy folks with one group–and sending them cease and desist letters from another in the same company.

And I’d also tell my reporters to attribute their stories–like this one from the Trib, that doesn’t even mention Oakland Local breaking this story DAYS before they ran theirs. DOH!!