11/14/2012 12:47 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Monaco Media Forum: The WayBack Machine

As I land in Monaco for this years Monaco Media Forum, I find myself thinking back to 2009 -- the first year of the now annual event, and the panel that I witnessed that began a journey. It was that moment that my book Curation Nation began.

What follows is a portion of Chapter 3 of Curation Nation: "Huffington Post and the Emergence of the Linked Economy"

2009, Monaco: For me, the moment that "everything" changed happened in a pretty unlikely place, and with a very unusual cast of characters. The location was the principality of Monaco, a tiny bit of remarkably privileged earth on the northern central coast of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded on three sides by France. It's the kind of place you expect to run into James Bond driving an Aston Martin with a Martini in the cup holder. Instead, I found myself talking with Arianna Huffington.

At the invite only Monaco Media Forum -- where NewsCorp's Jonathan Miller rubs shoulders with Edward Borgerding, CEO of Abu Dhabi Media -- Huffington was pitted against Germany's media giant Axel Springer's CEO, Mathias Dorpfner, the hard charging defender of paid media and walled gardens smiled and waved his hand at Arianna's 'money losing experiment.' But Huffington, who'd learned how to arm wrestle media barons by now, said with a sly laugh, "You continue to be paid, I'll continue to be free, and let's meet back here next year and see whose business is growing." The audience seemed ready to bet on the newly minted media baron -- a web publishing juggernaut was on a roll. Newspapers, the core of the Axel Springer enterprise, seem like an idea whose best days were behind it.

Huffington, who Time Magazine called the web's new oracle in 2009, is clear about the fact that what she's doing is changing things, and some of that change will have a negative impact on so-called 'old' media. She explains: "We are certainly at a turning point leading to the tipping point -- an exciting prospect in my view. There needs to be a distinction between saving journalism and saving newspapers. The idea that you can go back to a pre-Internet world where you can create walled gardens around content, and charge for admission, is simply futile. Those who try that are going to fail." She's speaking about Mathias Dopfner, CEO of Axel Springer, of course. She goes on, "Today we live in the linked economy, not a walled-off content economy. The challenge is to find different ways to monetize links among media through advertising or micropayment or whatever, not subscription for exclusive content. In this environment, good journalism will survive, and even flourish, though most newspapers--except for a handful of the very best papers and magazines in every national market -- probably will not. There will be more bottom up, citizen journalism, which is great."

For Huffington, and a whole host of other aggregator/curators - it comes down to where the law says they can link and share without crossing the line into stealing content. Here attorney and web publisher Dan Abrams of explains: "When we link, we follow the "fair use" ground rules, quoting no more than two paragraphs from another medium and then linking to the original story on the original site. That generates an amazing amount of traffic to the original site. It is not a one way street. Half of our traffic at HuffPost comes from links and searches. The question for newspapers is how they monetize those links."

But Dorphner said that given the choice between free beer or paid beer, the thirsty would drink the free beer if they're both of good quality. He's brewing better 'beer,' and wants to charge, but Arianna is giving away his brew for free.

He misses one key point -- Huffington Post's distribution system doesn't need his content; there's plenty of other 'beer' happy to stock her shelves. Dorphner believes his content is unique, while Arianna sees it as little more than commoditized data.

Huffington isn't shy about the tsunami of change that's coming to media as result of her linked economy. After all, putting your head in the sand won't do anything other than leave you with an earful of sand. According to Arianna, "The answer of the mainstream media can't be to huff and puff to try to blow down news aggregators. If they got what they wished for, it would be a one way ticket to oblivion because they would lose huge chunks of traffic driven to their sites."

For creators -- people who've spent their careers making content and trying to sort out an economic model, curation can seem like an end-run around hard work. And so the conflict ultimately comes down to this: Is curation about saving money? Or about adding value? The answer, it appears, is "yes" to both.

So, as this Monaco Media Forum begins, it will be interesting to see how things have changed. This year, I'm on the panel titled: "Humans Vs. Robots." Guess which side I'm on? Hint, curation and robots don't play well together.