Simon Dumenco at AdAge posted a story today about how the Huffington Post regurgitated one of his articles, and bashed the Post's long-time claims about how its links can drive tremendous amounts of traffic to the original source. It appears, however, that the content in question actually went too far for the Huffington Post's own tastes.
Dumenco explains that the article was a hit, but got way more traffic from Techmeme than from the HuffPost piece. Why is it ok for Techmeme to link to it and not for the HuffPost? According to Dumenco, because Techmeme takes a minimalist approach - normally with just a headline and short snippet (a la Google News) as opposed this particular HuffPost case, where the article was essentially rewritten, extracting all of the necessary points form the original piece.
"Techmeme drove 746 page views to our original item. HuffPo -- which of course is vastly bigger than Techmeme -- drove 57 page views," says Dumenco.
In an update to the post, Dumenco shares an email from Peter Goodman, Executive Business Editor of the AOL Huffington Post Media Group, which calls his criticism "completely valid."
"We should have taken what you call 'the minimalist approach' or simply linked directly to your story. That is how we train our writers and editors to handle stories such as this," it said, also adding that what occurred was "entirely unacceptable". It also said that the complaint has led to greater, yet unspecified efforts to ensure reporters and editors understand that this is "unambiguously unacceptable."
It's frequently debated just what should be considered fair use. Righthaven has made a practice out of suing those it deems violators as a business model. Judges have been ruling on the side of fair use.
You have to bring something new to the table, or have some kind of added value if you're going to base a post on the work of others. An aggregator like Techmeme or Google News gives you just enough for you to see whether or not you want to read the story. They don't aim to be the source of information as much as the sign pointing you to that source. When you get into articles themselves, it becomes a different matter.
That's not to say it's wrong to quote from original sources. Links and credit are obviously musts, and you should simply bring more and/or different information or commentary to the story than what was in the original source.
Staci Kramer at Paid Content writes, "If you can’t manage the art of aggregation, stick to the science. Aggregation has been part of our coverage mix at paidContent from the beginning. Done right, it’s a valuable tool that helps readers and benefits the original source. Done wrong, it’s at best, a mess and at worst, theft."
Here, for example, I've quoted from two different stories: the original AdAge piece and a PaidContent piece discussing it further. The PaidContent piece quoted from the original as well. Are either of us in the wrong for quoting (and linking to) these sources? I don't think so, but you also don't see us taking the entire post, paraphrasing, throwing a link on, and not adding anything to the conversation.
And that's just it. Conversation. That's why, in my opinion, it's not only fair, but critical for publications to quote and link to original reports sometimes. The conversation shouldn't end with the one report from the one source. There are often new shades of perspective or simply different angles to stories, and that is precisely what makes aggregators like Techmeme or Google News useful to the news consumer. They cluster these different articles on the same topics together to give readers a more rounded spectrum of coverage.
In this age of social media, things get even more complex. People are going to share stories through social networking channels. They're going to add their own commentary most of the time, but at the same time there are plenty of people out there simply spouting off something they read in an article to their own circle of friends, or even to the public with no link or mention of the original source. That may be limited to 140 characters on Twitter, but it could be as long as an article on Facebook or Google+.
Publications have their work cut out for them if they're to stop this kind of thing entirely.