This week, Time.com published a piece by Belinda Luscombe about Arianna Huffington. It’s one of the few profiles of her that addresses the plagiarism (Time’s word for it, not mine) that the Chicago branch of Huffington Post (or ChuffPo) engaged in last year. It’s interesting for a couple of reasons, including the new spin Huffington is putting on the issue (2nd page):
In December the site’s Chicago section was found to have been plagiarizing. “This was a problem with an intern,” says Huffington. “There was no excuse, and we corrected it.”
Really? An intern? That’s your excuse? Where have I heard that before…? Oh I know!
When I thought about what to write for The Huffington Post I was stuck on the idea of writing about the Huffington Post, because that’s who broke the Cindy McCain story where she, or an intern her people say, lifted recipes from the Food Network’s web site and put them on John McCain’s web site as her own “favorite family recipes.”
So thank you to The Huffington Post for looking out for the busy, the overworked, and the overheated chefs in America.
Yeah, Arianna Huffington is a regular Norma Rae.
Now, I’m not saying Huffington is lying here but here’s what Wired’s Ryan Singel was told about it in December 2008:
The Huffington Post co-founder Jonah Peretti says the contretemps are overblown — that the complete re-printing was a mistaken editorial call and that The Huffington Post’s intention in aggregating other publications’ content is to send traffic their way.
Wow, what incredible freedom Huffington Post interns have! They get to make editorial judgment calls about the content of one of the most-read Web sites in the country! No wonder people will work for them for free!
The Time article also summarizes the SEO methods HuffPo uses to create a competitive advantage over the sites whose content it uses. Luscombe says these methods as “complicated and mostly secret,” which is only half-right. They ARE complicated, but not at all secret if you’re hiring the right SEO experts.
In the article, Huffington says the trade-off is all the pageviews that she sends the way of the sites from which they take content. If my time as Web Editor of Time Out Chicago is any indication of the traffic other sites are getting, the number of page views we received from the reviews they lifted was minimal. And it’s hardly worth the loss of ad revenue from search engine traffic. Back to the article:
While this is wily, it’s legal. But news organizations may not tolerate others cherry-picking their content and repurposing it for profit for much longer. “Someone is going to sue the Huffington Post,” says Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. “It’s not just about the volume of the content that it appropriates, it’s about the value.” There are other aggregators, but HuffPo is the most tempting. “It’s a big player, and the site that has got closest to the line” between fair and unfair use of copy, Benton notes. [Emphasis mine]
The sad thing is, there’s an ethical way to aggregate. And ChuffPo’s actions – intern or otherwise – have soured many big media types on the idea of it, when it really could be a boon for their sites.