NYTimes: When We Do It, It's Journalism, When HuffPo Does It, It's 'Piracy'
from the um,-ok dept
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.