As the World Aggregates: Huffington Post Put on the Defensive

After criticism for "sketchy aggregation," the site dismisses one of its aggregators

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Bloggers found a new way to turn the Huffington Post into a punching bag, which is probably nice vindication for Advertising Age columnist Simon Dumenco who blasted The Huffington Post on Sunday for what he called the site's "sketchy aggregation" practices. But all of the rage from the blogosphere does not seem to be likely to secure the job of Huffington Post writer Amy Lee, who is emerging as the true loser of this kerfuffle.

Let's explain: In a recent column, Dumenco cited a post he had written about Weinergate that Lee rewrote for the Huffington Post, which buried the attributing link to Dumenco's Ad Age original in the middle of the piece. Dumenco argued that because the post had all of essential information from his story, readers had little reason to follow the link to AdAge. He backed up his claim by noting that Huffington Post's link to was clicked a mere 57 times. Huffington Post business editor Peter S. Goodman--who oversees the Huffington Post tech section, which published the copycat post--was quick to respond to Dumenco's criticism, penning an apologetic letter to the columnist. "Let me say, right off the bat, that your criticism of our post is completely valid: We should have either taken what you call 'the minimalist approach' or simply linked directly to your story," Goodman wrote.

Fair enough. The part, though, that's got people upset is that the Huffington Post writer, Amy Lee, was "suspended indefinitely" for writing the piece. Bloggers were quick to point out that Lee was simply doing what Huffington Post writers and editors have been instructed to do all along: repackaging other outlets' content as Huffington Post's own. Both Gawker and The Awl claimed that Lee had been "thrown under the bus."

Today, Dumenco himself weighed in. In an open letter to Goodman, Dumenco briefly thanked him for the apology before laying into him for suspending Lee when other Huffington Post writers have done the extract same thing as her. He wrote that Lee was canned "for engaging in a style of aggregration long practiced, condoned and encouraged by Huffington Post editorial management," noting that a Huffington Post article on James Franco he was reading right before receiving the letter essentially summarized a Playboy Q&A with the actor.

The Huffington Post says it's simply holding its writers to a "zero tolerance" policy for the wholesale taking of other sites' news content, claiming that it trains its writers and editors not to do so. Most media observers counter rewrites like Lee's are exactly what Huffington Post staff is told to do, and that the site is simply holding this one reporter to another journalistic standard to save face, given Dumenco's initial criticism. As Dumenco pointed out in his original column, Huffington Post has been trying to build its editorial clout by hiring writers and editors away from established newspapers, mostly notably The New York Times, which has became a bit of an archenemy of the site. For its part, Huffington Post has expanded its original reporting team, but if it is to be regarded as a premier news outlet like The Times, it needs to seriously reconsider when and how it curates content from other outlets. Making an example of a simple reporter in this one instance probably isn't going to cut it.

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