Thursday, December 3, 2009
News aggregators aren’t the bad guys
Executives from big media companies call news aggregation websites “parasites” and “thieves.” While that may be true, what they do is legal under fair use.
Old-school media companies are probably kicking themselves for not beating these new media upstarts, such as the Huffington Post and Google News, to the punch.
The goal of news services, be they newspapers or Web portals, is to compile the most comprehensive and/or appealing set of news stories and commentary to entice readers and keep them coming back.
Some websites push the limits of fair use by summarizing copyrighted stories to such a degree that no one need click on the link to the original news or feature story. The Huffington Post is notorious for cherry picking the best parts from an article and summarizing the rest. You get the gist of the story by reading the HuffPost condensed version.
The result is that HuffPost and similar sites get the Web traffic – and the associated advertising dollars – not the news services that expended the resources to investigate and write the story.
Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., which owns the Wall Street Journal, has been a major critic of news aggregators. He plans to put content from the Journal and other publications behind pay walls.
But I don’t think you can stop the aggregators.
Even if you erect pay walls around your content, aggregators can still get subscriptions and then write short summaries of the content contained there. Many people will find that that suffices.
The growth of news aggregators is evidence that people want convenient one-stop sites for articles, photos and videos on subjects that interest them. They want others to condense the relevant news and highlight the truly important things. People no long want to slog through long feature articles. They prefer the condensed versions.
There are quite a few news aggregators I turn to for specialty subjects such as entertainment and technology. They provide a service for readers by combing the web and looking for and summarizing newsworthy articles.
A good example is the Poynter Institute’s media industry column by Jim Romenesko. Romenesko scours more than 150 websites every day looking for news of interest to journalists. He summarizes the stories and provides links to the original articles.
As an aggregator, he provides a valuable service to his readers.
What gets media companies upset is it’s their content that generates the news and gets referenced by the aggregators. And the big media companies aren’t the ones who benefit.
Maybe the media giants should do a better job with their websites and become aggregators themselves. If you can’t beat them, join them.