War of words as 'parasite' news websites attacked
Published 25/09/2010 | 05:00
TRADITIONAL and digital media companies collided yesterday after the former executive editor of one of the most feted newspapers in journalism called news aggregator websites "parasites" living off traditional media outlets.
Speaking at City University in London, the former executive editor of the 'Washington Post' Leonard Downie called news websites that draw content from across the web -- known as aggregators -- "parasites living off journalism produced by others".
"These sites attract readers with news, opinion, features, photographs and video that they continuously collect -- some would say steal -- from other national and local news sites," he said in a bitter attack that took pundits by surprise.
However, last night Arianna Huffington, who runs the 'Huffington Post' -- an aggregator website that now commands more page views than the 'New York Times' website -- hit back at Mr Downie, accusing him of being behind the times and denied that aggregators were stealing material from established companies.
"People like Leonard Downie continue to confuse aggregation with wholesale misappropriation, which violates copyright law," she said.
"At the 'Huffington Post', aggregation goes along with a tremendous amount of original content, including original reporting and original blog posts. And we love it when someone links to one of our posts, or excerpts a small amount and links back to us.
"We adhere to copyright law and 'fair use' guidelines, and when excerpting a story, we only offer enough of it to give readers a flavour and the ability to comment on it, without gutting the incentive to go to the original source to read more," she added.
Mr Downie's criticism is not the first time aggregator sites have been criticised for living off traditional media.
'The Drudge Report', an American aggregator that became notorious in the late 1990s after breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal which nearly brought down the presidency of Bill Clinton, has frequently been criticised for not producing huge amounts of original content and instead linking to stories across the web.
That idea of linking to stories elsewhere, known as the 'link economy', has emerged in recent years as a possible alternative to charging for access to newspaper sites online as media companies search for a sustainable online model.