I think I’m out and then….

I thought I was done talking about Chuffpo here until Whet, who is the Web Editor at the Reader, noticed that ChuffPo has been running blurbs and writeups from the Reader, TOC, Centerstage, Decider and others. Whet explains it all in posts here and here:

I’ve known this for a while, and perhaps it’s hurbis on my part, but I find everything ChuffPo does, from the top down, to be substandard so I have a hard time getting worked up about anything it does. The original content it features is from writers who either do better work elsewhere or do crap work altogether, the attribution they use is so disguised it might as well not exist (if even Roger Ebert’s confused then what should we expect from other readers), and it has no original voice or outlook of its own. Since the site’s had minimal impact locally, I figure whoever’s reading it doesn’t know any better, is attracted by nothing by the name and the site will eventually wither away.

I don’t know anyone in Chicago who says “Yeah, I really like ChuffPo. It’s an interesting read.” Everyone who ever mentions it is doing so with ire raised (whether its about its aggregation strategy, its practice of not paying its writers*, its habit of not posting critical comments, etc.). The last time I heard anyone mention anything about a post** from any of its writers was during the whole Steve Dolinsky*** kerfuffle and again – ire raised.

All this explains why I haven’t been as worked up about it as Whet. It’s been lousy from Day One, and continues to be lousy. It doesn’t seem to be doing direct harm to TOC and since any given day hands me a solid list of things that do (or potentially might), my focus ends up there. Is it wrong they’re running whole writeups from other, better publications? Yes. Would I join in a call for them to change their attribution/linking/aggregation strategies? Yes. Is it its worst crime? Arguably, no.

But perhaps it’s worth taking a stand against this due to the theory of the slippery slope. If a site like Chuffpo – which uses other publications’ content to acquire millions of dollars in financing that could be spent on more responsible media sites – can get away with something like this, what’s to stop any other site from doing the same. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being an aggregator of content, but Whet makes a compelling argument that ChuffPo’s way is the wrong way to do it (a.k.a. flat-out stealing), especially if they’re making money off it.

So perhaps tomorrow I’ll ask for some of that money back.

* A practice I defend, in part, here.
** Technically, the last time I heard anyone mention anything about a ChuffPo post was when Mike Doyle wrote about the CTA’s plan to eject the homeless from its cars. But that was originally a post Doyle wrote for his own site Chicago Carless, which proves its writers save their best work for other places (or cross-post it).
*** Who’s no longer writing for them, it seems.

5 comments for “I think I’m out and then….

  1. December 19, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    They used to lift food content from MP. Journalistic ethics bedamned, I rejoiced in the traffic. But then they stopped linking to us — I assumed it was because I railed on Dolinsky and they were defending their own. Since he hasn’t filed for them in months, I guess I only have myself to blame.Either way, they’re crappity crap crap. And I’m happy to go on-record with that.

  2. December 30, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I’m Mike Doyle, editor and publisher of < HREF="http://www.chicagocarless.com" REL="nofollow">CHICAGO CARLESS<> and the Huffington Post contributor you mention in your footnotes. You’ve got it all wrong in your assumption that cross-posting of articles on HuffPost signals a “holding back” of good content or anything of the sort. Follow…Most other for-profit group blogs (including every national outfit that previously ever approached me) claim copyright over all content and place limitations on both the content, itself, and its use elsewhere. That’s a lot of restrictions to place on what is usually an unpaid blogger. It may also be illegal (Before its recent resurrection, when About.com imploded in the early 2000s many of their marginally remunerated scribes–as I was for a few years–launched a lawsuit over copyright issues.)By contrast, HuffPost bloggers retain full and total copyright to their work and have the option to post whatever they wish whenever they desire to do so. Obviously this is because HuffPost bloggers are unpaid. But it’s a pretty useful flexibility for both sides: I am faced with no firewall between my content and anywhere I wish to place it; as a result, I and others are more willing to provide content to HuffPost, giving them the lion’s share of their original content.It’s truly a two-way street. Bloggers allow HuffPost to have enough content to, frankly, exist, and in return we receive traffic and attention to our own sites and causes generated by a national network with an enormous readership. For an aspiring author such as myself, helping to build my local and national blogosphere platform like that is payment in itself. (As an aside, it was this oh-so-important symbiotic relationship Sun-Times hack Richard Roeper ignored when he ranted on the perils of “writing for free” after receiving an invitation from HuffPost editors earlier this year.)Moreover, I don’t “hold back” my “best content” for my personal blog. All of my writing is my best writing or I wouldn’t bother to write. Because I hold all copyright without restriction, in order to reach the widest audience and help best enlarge my platform, as a rule any essays of mine that appear on Huffington Post Chicago I also simultaneously cross-post on CHICAGO CARLESS. From time to time, I also publish on HuffPost past essays from my blog that have immediate relevance.And you know what, so do scribes at other national content networks without cross-posting restrictions (the Progressive meta-blog < HREF="http://www.alternet.org" REL="nofollow">Alternet<> comes immediately to mind.)Fundamentally, I never asked to be on the HuffPost blogging team. Their editors approached <>me<>–and did so based solely on the strength of my blog (which I was told they considered to be among the best in the city). I agreed to write for them only after being assured that my words were indeed my own to write when and where I saw fit.That is exactly what I’m doing, and I’m honored that my visitors–wherever they choose to read my words–find meaning in them. So why on earth do you think I would ever want to hold back or limit the distribution of my writing?

  3. December 30, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Mike: It might not be the case in your example, but I find the work of others on Chuffpo – who do write elsewhere – to be generally not as good as it is in their other publications.Also, as you point out, I can read your stuff on Chicago Carless, so why would I bother reading it on Chuffpo? I maintain they’ve yet to publish anything of worth there that I can’t find elsewhere, and that was my larger point.

  4. December 31, 2008 at 4:09 am

    There’s a good point there but I think it applies to more than just Huffington Post. A lot of the blogosphere is becoming a shared-content space. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it gets news and good writing more widely distributed.In my case, some people won’t want to subscribe to my personal site, but will follow my article feed on Huffington Post. When you think about it, RSS and social-networking tools really changed the game. You or I can write something that can be aggregated elsewhere, distributed via email, featured in a microfeed–and as long as the reader knows who wrote it and where to come back for more, in the end it doesn’t really matter where or how they read the content.I think it’s part of the ongoing dissolution of traditional media and its stranglehold on setting the news agenda. You really can’t easily monetize or control the flow of information anymore. My point is there aren’t many places on the ‘Net you can go to find exclusive content that you cannot find elsewhere in some form. If anything, I think the virtue of Huffington Post is being able to browse a grand sweep of local ideas and debate from motivated commentators and opinion leaders. It’s kind of like checking into a cheeky informational agora. Personally, I question the quality of some of the writing, too. But for me, that says more about the writer than the virtual publication–when you attach your name to something, you should make sure that something is good enough to deserve it.I think HuffPost does a better job on the national level. My wish is for them to enlarge their small paid staff and do more original reporting in Chicago.

  5. December 31, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    I’m in general agreement with what you’re saying here but let’s remember what started all this.<>You or I can write something that can be aggregated elsewhere, distributed via email, featured in a microfeed–and as long as the reader knows who wrote it and where to come back for more, in the end it doesn’t really matter where or how they read the content.<>I don’t have a problem with aggregator sites – or your statement above – in theory. Obviously, <>some<> of the best practices are still being worked out, but I think there’s a clear line between aggregating with abbreviated content and what ChuffPo was doing and what’s generally accepted. So in this case, it mattered very much. I can’t see how anyone could support their position.Also…<>If anything, I think the virtue of Huffington Post is being able to browse a grand sweep of local ideas and debate from motivated commentators and opinion leaders.<>That is a virtue, but it’s not one that the content of ChuffPo espouses. I don’t see a grand sweep of local ideas there, I see a handful of people writing about the hot button topics of the day (Blago, etc.) or their own pet topics or re-publishing posts from their other sites. The rest of it – the headlines, etc. – is all stuff I’ve seen or read elsewhere since it too is just whatever’s a hot read that day since they’re looking for page views. There’s little that’s unique or differentiated about the topics it covers. Where I do find that sweep of ideas is at sites like Chicagoist and Gaper’s which do a far better job of picking out the interesting, the odd and the special, as well as the big stories of the day.

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