Monday, September 26, 2011

History of a story: how smaller media outlets sometimes get ripped off by the aggregation of larger competitors

This post was written last week and held as I tried to get some feedback from Aaron Dimick, the reporter for WEAU mentioned here. I also wanted to put some time between the time the stories mentioned here appeared and the time this post published.

The original story was reported by's Aaron Dimick for broadcast on that evenings news program: the Eau Claire library would begin lending iPads to library patrons in order to them to become familiar with the Apple tablet and to read e-books, watch videos, surf the web and even download their own apps and content (though the apps and content are deleted from the tablet once the iPad is returned to the library).

Here is the original news report which was posted online by the station:

The web version of the story was posted to the station's website on Wednesday afternoon as Eau Claire library launches iPad lending program.

Ina Fried of the WSJ's All Things D then posted her own version of the story the next morning as Check Out What You Can Check Out at a Wisconsin Library: An Apple iPad. The story immediately includes a link to the Eau Claire library website in the second paragraph. The third paragraph then contains a large quote from library director John Stoneberg taken from the original Aaron Dimick story. The attribution reads "told TV station WEAU", with the text containing an embedded link back to Dimick's story.

Fried's story then goes on with information and quotes from the library's online document about their program, showing that Fried did more than just take the information from Dimick's story. Fried also closes the story out with some information about Amazon's Kindle program with libraries (they are partnering with Overdrive to create a Kindle book lending program).
The WSJ story also contains an illustration: a picture of an iPad with a library checkout folder and due date card on it. The merged photo takes an actual library due date image that had been posted on Flicker, and merged it with an image of an iPad.

Fried's Twitter feed then shows that the new WSJ story was promoted through a tweet that evening.

The next day appeared a Business Insider tweet that read Forget E-Books -- Now You Can Check Out iPads From The Library. The tweet links directly to the Business Insider site and a story with that headline. The story, written by Dylan Love, then links directly to the WSJ story, and is only three paragraphs in length.

To illustrate the story, Dylan Love created a merged photo of a library checkout card attached to an iPad.

The way Business Insider takes the stories from other media outlets has gotten a fair amount of attention last week (and now this week, see below). Felix Salmon wrote on the Reuters website about the issue by recounting various articles where Business Insider has simply rewritten the work of other reporters in order to drive traffic. While sympathetic to BI's need to drive traffic growth Salmon does have his concerns.
So why does Business Insider risk undermining all that highly original, distinctive content for what appear to be roughly 18,000 article views? When media companies are asked to grow at a meteoric pace — and Comscore indicates that Business Insider’s unique visitors have nearly doubled this year — the line between original content and borderline theft gets awful blurry. The editorial mission quickly transforms from “What can I link to?” to “How much can I take?”
Salmon's story was then picked up by Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper, who recounts the frequency in which Business Insider rewrites his blog posts – "they’ve linked to nearly every significant article I’ve written for the last few years, often automatically by scraping Techmeme."

"But what offends me even more than rewriting my titles and burying my links," writes Arment, "is how their layout so strongly implies that I’m a Business Insider writer and I endorse my name and writing being splattered all over their site."

Arment then ends his own story by wondering if Business Insider will reprint his rant about BI. Amazingly, it turns out they did, though they quickly pulled it down.

(Later Arment tweeted "My article about Business Insider has already had more than 3 times as many pageviews as Business Insider sent me since 2009," followed by another stating "Plus two nasty emails from BI high-ups accusing me of worse offenses, betraying a lack of understanding of what Instapaper actually does."

As my italicized intro states, this post was supposed to appear last week but I held it as I attempted to add to the story. Today, this post on ZDNet appeared that was in response to the Business Insider/Arment scuffle.

The post, written by Tom Foremski, talks about how aggregation is all about page views, which is why Business Insider does what it does:
The problem is that most journalists don’t know the economics of their own business, they have been sheltered from that knowledge by the wall that separates editorial departments from the commercial side of the business. That’s why journalists are puzzled by the “over aggregation” they see at Business Insider, Huffington Post, and other places.
I'm not sure I agree with Foremski here. From where I sit, I see journalists more and more running the show – why else are paywalls being erected, an ad person would tell you that the more eyes the better.

That aside, I think the issue here is that there are many types of aggregation, some of it wouldn't upset a traditionally trained journalist, others would. I have no issue with the WSJ story that appeared, though I think giving credit to the original reporter would have been a nice touch. As for the Business Insider story, well, I'll leave that one to you to decide.