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. Simon Dumenco got the wrong end of it recently — and he got results when he went public with a complaint that Bill Keller has been too nice to Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post.
In What It’s Like to Get Used and Abused by The Huffington Post, Dumenco outlined his experience with reality compared to the oft-repeated claims by Huffington and others at HuffPo that being picked up by them amplifies traffic to the original.
From our experience, a HuffPo link done right can have a positive effect. But Dumenco’s referral was from a paraphrased rewrite. In the end, AdAge got more than 10 times as much inbound hits from headline aggregator Techmeme and its relatively narrow audience than HuffPo’s higher-traffic site. He wrote:
To Arianna Huffington, I have this to say: The extent to which you’re trying to buy respect by poaching editors and writers from The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) and other traditional news operations (with all that funny money AOL (NYSE: AOL) chief Tim Armstrong has so unwisely put at your disposal) has gotten downright embarrassing. If you really want to rescue your legacy, get in touch with your inner fifth-grader — and tell her to grow the hell up already.
The result, according to an e-mail Dumenco received from HuffPo Exec. Business Editor Peter Goodman and posted as an update to his original: the writer (Amy Wise) has been suspended indefinitely and the HuffPo‘s consciousness has been raised. Dumenco received an apology and an assurance:
… what occurred in this instance is entirely unacceptable and collides directly with the values that are at work in our newsroom. We have zero tolerance for this sort of conduct. Given that, the writer of the offending post has been suspended indefinitely.
More broadly, your complaint has prompted us to redouble our efforts to make sure our reporters and editors understand that this sort of thing is unambiguously unacceptable.
Goodman doesn’t say what they’ll do to make sure that it doesn’t happen again although the threat of suspension for overstepping the lines should be a deterrent. More than that, though, I suspect it will take a cultural change.
Instead of treating aggregation like a link is a favor, Huffington (and others) need to respect the contribution these sources make to their sites.