NYTimes: When We Do It, It's Journalism, When HuffPo Does It, It's 'Piracy'

from the um,-ok dept

We regularly see established newspaper journalists look down on the world of sites that add value to news by assuming that aggregating, commenting on and providing context for news first reported by others is somehow a “lesser” product. Of course, what they’re doing in some sense is overinflating their own role in the media ecosystem. After all, they don’t make the news (usually). They’re really adding value to the actual events by reporting on it. The others are then adding additional value to the reporting. It’s all part of the ecosystem.

The latest sad example of this overvaluing of one’s own work and talking down about someone else’s work comes from the NY Times’ Executive Editor Bill Keller (also a driving force behind the NYT’s plan for a paywall). In a weird and somewhat rambling discussion, which eventually gets around to the future of news, Keller decides to attack the Huffington Post as a bunch of sniveling copyists, compared to his high minded version of journalism:

“Aggregation” can mean smart people sharing their reading lists, plugging one another into the bounty of the information universe. It kind of describes what I do as an editor. But too often it amounts to taking words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material. In Somalia this would be called piracy. In the mediasphere, it is a respected business model.

But wait. Aggregation is exactly the work that Keller does as an editor. And his sneering complaints about “taking words” from other people, packaging them on your own website and harvesting the revenue describes the NY Times too. After all, the news was actually initiated by the people his reporters are covering. They’re the ones who provide the actual story and the quotes and information needed. Does the NY Times direct any of its revenue to the real originators of the material? The people the news actually happened to and the sources of their stories? Of course not. The very thought would certainly horrify Keller. “Real” news organizations like the NY Times never pay sources. It goes against their very moral core.

But there’s massive cognitive dissonance at work here. Keller and the NY Times are aggregators. They’re aggregating stories that happen to other people. They then add value (often tremendous value) to it in how they report on it. But other forms of aggregators also add value by doing more with those stories: adding commentary, details, criticism, promotion and many other things. The problem is that Keller, in a fit of pure ego, seems to think the chain of news stops with the reporter, rather than the sources and the actual newsmakers. As Mathew Ingram notes, Keller appears to be saying: “when we do it, it’s journalism; when the Huffington Post does it, it’s piracy.”

Keller, of course, is also being incredibly misleading, if not downright dishonest, in how he portrays the Huffington Post. The site certainly does plenty of aggregating of content from other sites. Though, I will say as the recipient of just a few experiences where HuffPo has chosen to “aggregate” content from Techdirt, that it is an amazing driver of traffic. Frankly, I wish HuffPo would “aggregate” more of our stories because it is the single biggest driver of traffic we’ve ever seen. It beats every other big driver of traffic by many multiples.

But, more importantly, Keller is being misleading in pretending that HuffPo has always just been focused on reposting content from elsewhere. From its very beginnings, it has always produced tons of new content. Some of it may be more high quality than others, but the site has always produced unique content, which Keller pretends is some “recent” change in how HuffPo does business.

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Companies: huffington post, ny times

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Comments on “NYTimes: When We Do It, It's Journalism, When HuffPo Does It, It's 'Piracy'”

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Marcus Carab (profile) says:

I think you’re actually being too easy on Keller here. Forget the fact that pavement-pounding reporting is a form of aggregation from the public – newspapers actively aggregate from tonnes of published sources too. Every newsroom has a table covered in copies of every other newspaper in town – in case you missed something, or they got an angle you didn’t, or you think one of the stories can be taken further. In addition to reporting, all journalists do research: they look up other articles on the topic, find past magazine interviews and pull data from published reports. Many science articles in newspapers are just summaries of journal articles.

And that’s just what went on and still goes on in the traditional media ecosystem, amongst the old players. Newspapers actively aggregate from blogs too. Every journalist in entertainment or technology starts his morning looking for leads on blogs, and the first thing any reporter does when they get an assignment on a topic they aren’t familiar with is look it up on Wikipedia.

Keller is being unbelievably myopic here. Thank you for reminding me of the apt (and awesome) term cognitive dissonance.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:


“In Somalia this would be called piracy.”

So… the Huffington Post is raiding the NYT offices and taking hostages, holding all of their news for ransom?

Yes, obvious responding troll, I know this is a metaphor, but did they hold some sort of “Least Applicable Metaphor” contest before heading off on the warpath?

Ima Fish (profile) says:

taking words written by other people, packaging them on your own Web site and harvesting revenue that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material

If someone is making more money off of your written words than you are, you’re an incredibly terrible business person. You should go out of business. Because if you lack the ability to capitalize your own work, you don’t stand a chance in hell of ever succeeding.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, those who write the words or create the news likely aren’t in their own business (as evidenced by their employee contract with the NYTimes or their failure to popularize the news).

You are criticizing a firm, however, who is in the business of leveraging others’ words using the support of copyright and is having trouble adjusting to the Internet and the added competition it brings.

If you want people to vote against copyright, it would help to point out why you think the creators of the content have a chance to write AND make money even if their current employers leveraging copyright law might perhaps not offer them the path to that money.

Techdirt has ample coverage of how many authors and other creators are achieving this.

In writing school one day, they may very well be teaching students new techniques to monetizing their writing using the Internet and without being sabotaged by aggressive copyright enforcement.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

In writing school one day, they may very well be teaching students new techniques to monetizing their writing using the Internet and without being sabotaged by aggressive copyright enforcement.

They already are – at least in journalism school. But they are in a funny transitional period. Any journalism student right now is likely to have a few teachers who espouse the value of self-promotion and blogging, and a few others who attempt to drill archaic views into their head like “blogs aren’t real media” or “never use wikipedia”

It must be very confusing for them…

Anonymous Coward says:

The NY Times lost it’s value when it decided to go to paywall. Here’s some news for them from someone who is not going to pay them to access.

I don’t live in the NY area, so any local news generated there is of very casual interest at best and none at all at worst. No weather news is of value, very little human interest stories are of value as I don’t like them to begin with, and what would interest me I’m not going to see behind a paywall.

Instead I will go some place like Huffington Post to read a one of article that I might be interested in. Nor are my visits to Huffington Post overly common. More times than not, it’s a link provided at some other site.

I also from time to time see links to paywall newspapers. Those I discard and leave upon arrival as it is not worth the cost to see.

With data mining being so prevalent at news sites, I won’t even register to get it. I see a registration page, I do the same thing I would do at a paywall site, which is close the page.

So their self-importance and how good their articles might be is never found out. Instead those like me will go elsewhere to get that news they seek. NYT doesn’t hold a monopoly on the news nor where to get it.

Many news sites have already found out that paywalls tend to cause readers to go elsewhere and what happens is the drop in readership causes a drop in advertising revenues. So I tell them good luck with that because outside of New York, no one else much cares.

Steven (profile) says:


me: So what do you think of these aggregators?
Keller: Their horrible! Pirates all of them. Always stealing our stories without even thinking of paying for them.
me: So they come to you and get stories, then they write about them on their site, and sometimes place exact quotes from your site on theirs.
Keller: Yeah. It’s so frustrating.
me: So how do you get your stories?
Keller: We do the real work, out on the streets talking to people, researching, fact checking.
me: So you go out, get a story from somebody, get some quotes, and some perspective?
Keller: Exactly. Real Journalism.
me: So these people to take the story from, take their quotes, and the places you find the facts to copy down… how much do you pay them?
Keller: Pay them!? We’re not some cheap rag like Star or something. We don’t pay for our stories, it would be unethical.
me: So, when you get a story from somebody, and put it in your paper, paying for that would be unethical?
Keller: Right!
me: And if HuffPo gets a story from you and puts it on their sight without paying you that’s unethical?
Keller: Exactly!
me: So does ethical mean giving you money?
Keller: Well of course it does, we’re a cornerstone of democracy, everybody should be giving us money!

Zeus says:

Tell me, please, that you get the diffence between someone who is capable of synthesizing the elements of a story and communicating them effectively and pointing out where good stories that have already been written are.

Aggregators are helpful in finding good news sometimes. They are not more important than journalists. I want to pay journalists for going out and finding things out and sharing them with me. In fact, I want them to do that MORE. Good journalism could save us from future calamities. Good aggregating keeps me reading news for an extra half hour.

The point that the NY Times doesn’t make the news so they are stealing something and call it theirs is ludicrous.

I’m no journalist. I’m no fan of them when I have to talk to them. But God help us ALL if their ability to do good work is damaged.

vivaelamor (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“The point that the NY Times doesn’t make the news so they are stealing something and call it theirs is ludicrous. “

That wasn’t the point. The point was that their own reasoning is flawed and if their logic were applied equally to them then it would seem ludicrous. Like it does to us when they apply it to aggregators. In other words, the point is that the NY Times doesn’t make news, but it also doesn’t steal it and neither do aggregators.

Kevin Carson (user link) says:

Bloggers make better editors

Actually, the aggregation function an editor performs is even more similar than that. Your assumption that the newspaper prints mostly original reporting by its own employees is unwarranted. Most of the news printed isn’t just generated by the people who actually do it, but it’s reported by people who don’t work for the paper and aggregated by means of a wire service or syndicate.

Most news content may be generated by conventional reporters. But it’s not necessarily generated by reporters working for the newspapers that print it.

And bloggers typically do a better job of providing commentary and context than conventional newspaper editors do. Bloggers and online journalists do what editors SHOULD do, but DON’T: make evaluations of factual accuracy, juxtapose the claims of institutional spokesmen against links to material that bears out or disproves of those claims, etc. Yochai Benkler calls it the hyperlinked “see for yourself” culture.

Conventional journalism, OTOH, is governed by the Lippmanite standard of fake “professional objectivity,” according to which any independent appeal to the factual realm amounts to taking sides by the journalist. The journalist is supposed to just stenographically quote “both sides,” without making independent judgments about whether one of the “sides” is incorrect — or LYING. That means, in most cases, adopting a pose of credulity and naivete and reporting the claims of flacks as straight news, and relying on the “other side” to evaluate them for factual accuracy if they’re evaluated at all.

Far better than this pose of fake neutality, as a way of approaching genuine truth, is the adversarial process or dialectic: making the best case for the factual truth, as you see it, and then counting on your adversaries to ruthlessly cross-examine it with facts, logic — and hyperlinks.

The partisan newspapers of the 19th century, which followed this latter model, did a far job of uncovering the truth. The truth emerged from the marketplace of ideas as a product of their mutual strife. And bloggers are a return to this model.

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