WGEM pounces on digital media newcomer Muddy River News with $1,700 image claim

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Rocky IV (1985), United Artists

Like a digital media Rocky Balboa, Muddy River News LLC will have its stumbles and falls. However, we plan to get back up, finish the rounds and stand for something special for our community and local journalism. 

We have a growing group of quality (and mostly homegrown) staff, stringers and others behind our efforts — Bob Gough, David Adam, Matt Schuckman, Steve Eighinger, Brittany Boll, Jim Dewey and Ron Kinscherf. How can we do less? 

We recently had one of those stumbles.  It ended with Muddy River News LLC paying $1,700 to Gray Media Group, Inc.  

Facebook post by Quincy Public Schools Foundation

The stumble was prompted by a Muddy River News story. Tanninger Companies announced in July that it had purchased the Illinois State Bank building with plans to renovate it into a boutique hotel with amenities to match.   What a great thing to celebrate!  

Muddy River News was not yet on Tanniger’s news release list. The staff of Muddy River News noticed the Tanninger Companies press release and an accompanying image posted on the Facebook page of the Quincy Public Schools Foundation. (I noticed that Facebook post myself.) The foundation sought to recognize Ryan Jude Tanner, a Quincy High School alum and Tony Award winner. Tanner, along with Jay Krottinger, undertook the renovation project.  Again, a great thing to celebrate!  

Muddy River News reached out to the foundation for what it assumed was the Tanninger Companies’ press release, which included an aerial image of the building. The photo did not include any information as to where the image came from (turns out it was a WGEM image). No problem as best could be determined. The Muddy River News story, along with the thought-to-be press release image, were posted in the late morning July 14 at www.muddyrivernews.com.  

$1,700? Really?

After Muddy River News posted a story and the image, an email and accompanying letter from Ben Van Ness, WGEM vice president and general manager, was sent at 12:01 a.m. (seriously) on July 15 to Gough, publisher and general manager of Muddy River News, with the “request that you remove (the photo) from your website immediately.” The email also said WGEM would “require a payment of compensation in the amount of $1,700 for unauthorized usage of the imagery.” Van Ness concluded that if not resolved, the matter “will result in further legal action.”      

At the time, WGEM was part of Quincy Media, Inc. Gray Media Group’s nearly $1 billion deal, which included the purchase of WGEM, closed earlier this month, so WGEM now is just another one of Gray’s approximately 100 television stations and the remaining employees are among the more than 8,000 people who work for Gray nationally.

Muddy River News, with apologies to WGEM, immediately removed and replaced the image during the morning July 15, accepting Van Ness’ assertion that the image was not part of the Tanninger Companies’ release. Considering the circumstances and its origination to us through a Facebook post by the Quincy Public Schools Foundation, Muddy River News thought that would be enough. 

But … no. The $1,700 was still expected.  

We reluctantly paid for “the unauthorized usage” rather than engage in a legal imbroglio. We have moved on to continue our goal of bringing first-rate local news and sports coverage to our area.  I assume WGEM felt an urgent need to protect an image of one of Quincy’s iconic buildings.  

Dedicated to local journalism

We have made it clear from the start that we stand for “Our Home. Our News” (and soon “Our Home. Our Sports”). The $1,700 makes it clear that after a little more than three months, other media have taken notice.  Our advertisers, sponsors and visitors are making this possible.  We reach out to you to continue that support.

Muddy River News (and now Muddy River Sports) was founded by Gough, Mike Kinscherff and me. Ownership of other local media outlets has migrated from mostly local ownership.  Those previous local owners deserve our heartfelt thanks for past journalism efforts, but things have now changed.  We have 1,700 reasons to think so.  

Not all media has staked out its turf. KHQA Sports Director Chris Duerr reached out to Matt Schuckman, founding editor of Muddy River Sports, to congratulate him and conduct a complimentary broadcast interview earlier this summer. That makes for great community colleagues and journalism leadership. 

Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports encourages all media comers, as well as all thoughtful and respectful voices. That is what will make our great community even better.  We, too, welcome other media to link our stories to enrich debate and coverage. To be clear, we have no plans to expect payment if another news organization shares or posts a Muddy River News image or story (as long as credit is given to Muddy River News). We believe, and we’ve been told, that in a matter of months we have stepped up everybody’s game.

A ‘digital media’ Rocky Balboa

Do we have hard feelings with WGEM? Not at all. Its actions, however, were surprising.

We hope WGEM didn’t ask the Quincy Public Schools Foundation for $1,700 as well. The foundation has removed its Facebook post honoring Tanner. If WGEM did seek payment from the foundation as well, we ask the foundation to let us know. We will contribute to help cover it.  Perhaps a donation by Gray Media Group, Inc., to the Quincy Public Schools Foundation of what we paid would be in order? Van Ness is a member of the foundation’s board.

We are encouraged by the support we have received from advertisers and visitors. We hope others will help going forward through advertising and sponsorship of Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports. We want to continue our free online services, and that requires advertisers and sponsorships. We are considering other ideas as well.  

There are reasons to be concerned about the future of media, especially local journalism. Print newspapers are declining in number. Those remaining, including The Quincy Herald-Whig/Hannibal Courier-Post (now owned by Phillips Media Group of Harrison, Ark.), have greatly reduced staffs and coverage. Online services, social media, podcasts, YouTube and other innovations present challenges to even legacy media. 

The future of Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports is to be multi-platform, nimble and online. This may be something legacy media fears. We hope the community will support our efforts. If that happens, we will continue to get up just like Rocky Balboa when we stumble, fall or botch something.

There is no doubt there is still a role for WGEM and other broadcasters. That’s why I’m also a shareholder of Gray Television, Inc.

For our community, however, I believe ventures like Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports will truly make a difference.

Jim Rapp has been practicing law for nearly 50 years and has published extensively on education law, civil rights and other legal matters. He is a founding partner of Muddy River News LLC.

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