A lot of people have weighed in on this already, but I do think it’s worth taking a moment to dwell on the attack that New York Times executive editor Bill Keller launched yesterday on The Huffington Post and its approach to 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.
The queen of aggregation is, of course, Arianna Huffington, who has discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come.
Coming from someone with such a powerful position in journalism, this represents a remarkable level of dismissiveness towards the way millions and millions of people prefer to consume news these days. Keller’s assault on “aggregation” likens it to a species of outright theft. In reality, smart aggregation is premised on the idea that people no longer believe (if they ever did) that A Single Authoritative And Almighty News Source is adequate to the task of telling them what information is “fit” for them to consume.
People who go to the Huffington Post or any other sight that aggregates content from multiple sources, including (gasp!) blogs, are In effect saying that the day-in-and-day-out editorial choices at these sites about what constitutes the important news of the day are more relevant and compelling to them than those of traditional news orgs like the Times -- even if these sites are informing them partly with content that’s woefully inferior to that of the Paper of Record.
As for Keller’s complaint about “packaging” content, the Huffington Post regularly sends huge amounts of readers to stories at other publications, including the Times itself. Indeed, just yesterday, HuffPo prominently linked to a great Times story debunking many of the claims of bold truth-teller Chris Christie. And when HuffPo or another aggregator “repackages” a Times story, the aggregator is generally quoting from that story and linking to it, which hardly seems like something that should be viewed as undesirable.
More broadly, Keller’s attack completely discounts the fact that HuffPo writers do a great deal of original reporting that regularly moves the ball on major political stories. (Full disclosure: I am friendly with some of those reporters.) I know this, because I link to the fresh content they provide regularly in the course of aggregating on this blog. For some reason, those reporters have not yet figured out that they’re being robbed blind.