Is It Aggregation or Stealing?

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Snazzy, easy-to-use, one-stop hub Newser is one of many aggregation sites out there (The Atlantic Wire should know--we're one, too). Aggregation has its upsides and downsides: there are those who claim shortening and collecting is a useful service and those who claim it can serve as a justification for content-stealing. Is Newser much worse than other sites of its kind? The Wrap's Sharon Waxman thinks so, and she's got company. Last week she posted a long attack on Newser, listing the ways the site goes beyond the competition/cooperation (or "coompetition," as she puts it) involved in aggregation. Newser, she declares, is a parasite. Here are her four main complaints:

  1. Newser has lots of Wrap content, but sends The Wrap relatively few users; in other words, both parties are not--as aggregation proponents usually suggest--benefiting. This is different from The Huffington Post, which "makes a serious effort to return the favor to those sites from which they rewrite content."
  2. Not all Newser stories even have a credit and an embedded link: "I easily found instances where they did no such thing ('Fox, Howard Stern Talking Idol,' 'DirecTV Boss to Be Murdoch's New Vice-Chair') and others where they cited The Wrap but 'forgot' to link: ('American Idol Snags DeGeneres as 4th Judge,' 'Obama Visits Dave Monday'). Here's one where they just lifted the entire article, a timeline about Tom Cruise."
  3. On a "source grid" page, Newser actually presents all the content they've taken from a single source--be it The New York Times or The Wrap--but all of the links go to Newser summaries of the source stories rather than to the original stories on the source's pages.
  4. Newser often presents an ad when you try to follow the link to the original source.

But Newser founder Michael Wolff fired back, and now this spat has drawn other bloggers as well. Here's Wolff responding, and other commentators piling on to adjudicate and get in some shots of their own.

  • 'I Can Say Anything You Can Say Shorter,' retorts Wolff. "News used to be a scarce commodity; but then the Internet turned it into a vast surplus, too great for anybody to consume in what still remains only 24 hours." He says the "critical added value"--with Newser and online news in general--"is efficiency." Newser and others sift through the news, pick out the goods, and present them quickly. Furthermore, he says, "the foundation of news... has always been the rewrite desk."
  • 'Allow Me to Side with the Despicable Wolff,' writes Slate's Jack Shafer. He thinks "what's got Waxman so furious... [is] that Wolff is attempting to make a business out of rewriting and condensing other people's copy. She imagines that her stories contain value and that Wolff's contain none, that he's snaking page views that rightly belong to her. Neither is true." Instead, Shafer argues that Newser's impressive traffic record shows "abbreviating and rewriting other publications' copy for maximum effect—something journalists have been doing since the dawn of journalism—is a smart idea."
  • Allow Me Not To  Newser is not alone in its tactics, contends Salon's Andrew Leonard, but Wolff's more-evolved-than-thou stance "deserves a special award for effrontery." The site flouts the basic rules that "[make] this new Internet information ecosystem work for everybody"--namely "giving ample credit and linking to sources." Instead, Newser "obscures where the content it is appropriating comes from, adds zero editorial value, and even serves up advertisements when you try to leave the site after clicking on a link in the 'source' box to see the original story!"
  • Newser Is 'Skeevy'  Reuters's Felix Salmon calls this spat "pretty easy to adjudicate." In the course of declaring that "of course Newser is a bunch of free-riders," he offers a general observation on aggregation: "As a general rule, links to other sites should always be part of the flow of the story, and should be inserted at the first available opportunity."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.