An old argument reared its head today after the former executive editor of the Washington Post described news aggregation site The Huffington Post as a “parasite”. The thing is, if you call the Huffington Post a parasite you really have to call just about every single news outlet in history a parasite too.
The Guardian reports that Leonard Downie Jr criticised news aggregator sites like the Huffington Post for using “News, opinion, features, photographs and video that they continuously collect – some would say steal – from other national and local news sites.”
It’s a common charge from the “old guard” of news – that blogs and aggregators take the work of “proper journalists”, rewrite and repackage it and then take all the glory. That’s a double standard if ever I’ve heard one. Here’s why:
- Just about every newspaper takes stories from wire services like the Associated Press. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not original journalism and is content that readers will find in numerous other outlets the same day in an identical form.
- There’s simply not enough “new news” to go around. Even the finest news outlets in the world don’t break big stories everyday. They often take news that’s been reported elsewhere and re-report it.
- Far too much “churnalism” goes on in traditional news outlets these days – rewriting press releases without any attempt to verify the claims made in them. That story you read in a newspaper about a survey this morning? Probably culled from a press release. See also “It’s National Male Grooming Day… says male grooming product company”-type stories,
So, traditional news outlets aren’t as original and clean as they like to think. Meanwhile, in my personal experience the Huffington Post in particular is far from a parasite. When the Huffington Post picks up on a story we’ve published here at The Next Web, we see a noticeable traffic boost on that story which can last for days. I’m talking about thousands of extra readers who hear about the news on the Huffington Post and then click through to us to read more at the original source.
Yes, the Huffington Post may repurpose content from elsewhere for its own ends, but news aggregators are hardly alone in this tactic. What’s more, by attracting a large audience and linking back to sources, it’s actually creating a symbiotic relationship with content creators, not bleeding them dry.