Writers And Niche Publishers Welcome Healthy Parasites, The Other Kind Not So Much

Maria Popova of BrainPickings has a bone to pick over the Huffington Post’s practice of “over-aggregation.”

…when an aggregator like the Huffington Post, a business-model wolf wearing an editorial-authenticity sheep’s skin, takes my (ad-free) content and regurgitates it on its (ad-plastered) site, it lives up to the term “parasite”…

The “P” word is also used by Robert Levine, the author of Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. “In Silicon Valley, the information that wants to be free is almost always the information that belongs to someone else,” Levine argues.

I followed Popova’s link to the HuffPo post in question and there is a link back to Popova’s site, but it is in the final paragraph. And HuffPo didn’t add any value to the piece with it’s own reporting or editorializing. One might argue that there is value in presenting the article in a newly condensed format–that the repackaging is a value add, in other words. I’m not arguing that point, just noting that someone could.

Because it requires adherence to a widely accepted code of conduct and standards, proper attribution is something we’ll always been striving for and never quite reaching in digital media. AdPulp’s content has been lifted for years by all sorts of strange little sites. Of course, HuffPo isn’t a strange little site. It’s a “business-model wolf wearing an editorial-authenticity sheep’s skin,” according to Popova.

Over-attribution and proper attribution sound like very different concepts, but in practice they’re both subjective. Writers and editors make judgement calls every day about what information to use, and how best to use it.

Intent matters, which helps explain why HuffPo has so many critics. Personally, I think there is a place for sites that work to collect and curate large swathes of the web, but they need to go out of their way to highlight and promote their sources.

Previously on AdPulp: Journalists Are Uptight About Proper Attribution, When It Suits Them

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About David Burn

Native Nebraskan seeking the perfect pale ale in the Pacific Northwest. Disc golfer. Fan of Kurt Vonnegut, community radio and wolves in the wild. Copywriter and brand strategist at Bonehook. Co-founder and editor of AdPulp.