Newsweek Continues Wrestling With Aggregators

Under the charming headline “Eliminate the Parasites,” Newsweek‘s Daniel Lyons (9/12/09) advances another brilliant scheme to save corporate media from the menace of Google.

Lyons likes the idea put forward by billionaire Ayn Rand fan Mark Cuban:

Cuban’s advice: declare war on the “aggregator” Web sites that get a free ride on content. These aggregators–sites like Drudge Report, Newser and countless others–don’t create much original material. They mostly just synopsize stuff from mainstream newspapers and magazines, and provide a link to the original….

He says the media companies should kill off these parasites by using a little piece of software that blocks incoming links from aggregators. If the aggregators can’t link to other people’s stories, they die. With a few lines of code, the old-media guys could snuff them out.

Great idea–except that aggregator sites don’t actually have to link to the original articles–they could just synopsize the news they find and leave searching for the original article as an exercise for the reader. As Cuban himself notes, “very few readers actually click through to the original story,” so they can’t be the main attraction of the aggregators. Apparently, people go to them because they are a quick way to learn the news of the day–and they’re going to keep being that, unless you make it a crime to tell people what the news is. I don’t think we want to do that.

The links are mainly there as a courtesy to the content-producer, and they ought to appreciate that courtesy, because more important than the traffic that such links generate directly (though this can be quite attractive, as evidenced by outlets’ relentless pursuit of Drudge links) is the fact that they boost your search-engine visibility, particularly on Google. If you stopped people from linking to you, you’d be basically invisible online. And this would be good for corporate media how?

Rather than coming up with a scheme for how to get back at Google, Huffington Post or whomever, corporate media would be better off thinking about why people use aggregator sites. When people are looking for a roundup of all the news in the world, why don’t they turn to a newspaper? And when they do click on your sites, why doesn’t that make you more money? Corporate media is, after all, the business of selling audiences to advertisers–if they can’t do that as well as Google does, then they just aren’t very good at their jobs.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.