The Wrap, Newser and Content Aggregation: How Much Attribution is Enough?

The cease and desist letter and the ensuing war of words between The Wrap’s Sharon Waxman and Newser’s Michael Wolff is getting a lot of industry attention this week. To me the real question is: when one site aggregates another’s content, how much attribution is enough?

The value and legitimacy of content aggregation is a topic for another post; I think most would agree that curation serves a more useful purpose than aggregation. But for better or worse content aggregation is a big part of online news dissemination today and I wouldn’t expect it go away any time soon. With that in mind, it is important that aggregators adhere to some basic rules of conduct: a) create their own summary text, don’t just “borrow” from the original and b) properly credit original sources through attribution links.

To see what type of attribution Newser is providing, I picked a random article from the sources grid on their home page today: Oprah Ditches Daytime for New Evening Show.

In this particular case the original article on the Wall Street Journal is linked to both inline and in the “Sources” section of the sidebar:

Newser inline atttribution link

Newser sidebar attribution link

Two links is good attribution; I think that qualifies as giving proper credit to the original source. But as pointed out by The Wrap, Newser does not always do this. In looking at a selection of other articles in some cases only the “Sources” sidebar link is provided; The Wrap has also claimed that sometimes no attribution link was provided at all.

Personally I think aggregated stories should always include an inline attribution link. A sidebar link may not get proper attention from either users or search engines so a link should be placed within the actual editorial content.

The Wrap is also looking for attribution on Newser’s source grid. To quote Sharon Waxman:

“All we really want is for Newser to stop pissing on our leg and tell us it’s raining. Very simply: put in credit and links where they are missing. Add a Wrap homepage link to the source grid page. Make it simple and logical to get to actual Wrap content from that page.”

Here is part of The Wall Street Journal source grid linked from that Oprah article:

Newser Wall Street Journal source grid

This is basically a section front on Newser so it is understandable that they are linking to their own articles. But this also shows how Newser is pushing aggregation to the extreme. It is one thing to occasionally aggregate stories from various sources that you think will be of interest to your readers. It is another to mass-aggregate content from a specific publication and then package it on a hub page, even customizing the URL and title tag for SEO:

Newser Wall Street Journal title tag

For what it is worth, Google does not seem to be assigning much value to the page. It has a toolbar PageRank score of 1, and at least in my Google results it is not in the top 50 for “Wall Street Journal.” It is on page one for “Wall Street Journal news summaries” and page two for “Wall Street Journal summaries” but according to the Google Keyword Tool neither of those phrases has any search volume:

Wall Street Journal search volume

UPDATE:
Here’s the video of the “discussion” between Sharon Waxman and Michael Wolff on CNN’s Reliable Sources (April 11, 2010). It’s safe to say they don’t get along:

Comments

  1. Hey Adam,
    I’m the Marketing Manager at Newser. Thanks for the write up. I wanted to point out that Waxman is absolutely wrong when she says we sometimes don’t credit our sources at all. It’s actually technically impossible to omit the link on the right under SOURCES based on how our system is set up. It’s always there.

  2. Thanks for your comment Brittnay. In spot checking articles I didn’t come across any that didn’t have at least the one attribution link in the sidebar. I’m a proponent of inline attribution myself, but I think including the source in the sidebar too is a good thing.

  3. Yep, you’re right. And 99% of the time, we include those (when we don’t, it’s a mistake).

  4. I wonder why people still believe in such a slow process that a C&D entails. Why not just send a DMCA complaint to the web host and get the site taken down? Or … well, ask nicely.

    Having represented several “big” news sources in the blog space, I can tell you that in my several years of doing this, the requests I have made have never been denied, even overseas. Eventually, justice prevails. It would prevail a lot quicker if you make the request before making any type of [legal or otherwise] threat, though.

  5. Thanks for the input Tamar. A lot of the publishers we work with are constantly getting their content scraped; it’s a real problem. I haven’t been personally involved in helping to combat it, but in situations like that a DMCA complaint seems like the way to go.

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