Earlier this week Simon Dumenco published a column in Advertising Age griping that, for all Arianna's promises that she drives traffic to outside sites, the Huffington Post actually takes ideas and hands out few page views in exchange. His example was a column of his own, which was liberally quoted and minimally linked by HuffPo. In the end, the massive "traffic-driver" sent only 57 page views his way. It was an egregious but not uncommon example of the site's aggregation philosophy, on the far end of a sliding scale that often tries and succeeds in proper attribution. (Some of our posts get big bumps from a HuffPo link. Others don't.) In response to Dumenco's column, HuffPo's executive business editor, Peter Goodman, profusely apologized and suspended the young blogger who had "over-aggregated."
"Your criticism of our post is completely valid: We should have either taken what you call ‘the minimalist approach’ or simply linked directly to your story," Goodman wrote. "That is how we train our writers and editors to handle stories such as this." Calling the post "entirely unacceptable," he said the website has a "zero tolerance" policy for such work.
This sent more media websites into a tizzy. Gawker's Ryan Tate found some HuffPo writers who claimed that, in fact, this type of speed-and-aggregation-at-all-costs work is exactly what is taught to new employees. One staffer even said that he or she was "livid" at the suspension. "That is what we were taught and told to do at HuffPost," the staffer told Tate. "Arianna and the higher ups made a decision to stop linking out directly as much and rewrite stories 'the way the AP does.'" Dumenco was also displeased — he thanked Goodman for the apology but then asked for the writer to be reinstated. He also asked that the Huffington Post apologize to a bunch of other sites, including our own (thanks, Simon!), which he thought had been similarly taken advantage of.
Goodman has drawn a line in the sand here. Now that someone's been suspended so publicly, every time there's a similar "over-aggregation," complaining websites could expect similar repercussions. Now that the site has admitted a weakness — one that can be traced throughout — the vultures have started circling.
Of course, the Huffington Post could continue to "suspend" young staffers willy-nilly and probably not affect their bottom line or even their productivity rate. But that would be bad PR, and besides, there's the possibility that Goodman actually meant what he was saying. The Washington Post's Eric Wemple has a theory:
The guy at the center of it, Goodman, is a veteran of the Washington Post and the New York Times. His note to Dumenco reads as much like an elbow at his liberally aggregative colleagues as it does an expression of corporate contrition. One sentence therefrom: "We have zero tolerance for this sort of conduct." A suggested edit: "We now have zero tolerance for this sort of conduct." So did Goodman go all maverick here, firing off a memo and forcing the Huffington Post brass to embrace his hard line on linking?
Intriguing. But even if that wasn't his intent, maybe we'll jump on the over-aggregation attack bandwagon. Give Vulture credit for making James Franco and Bruce Vilanch get into an Internet war. It's only right!!
What It's Like to Get Used and Abused by The Huffington Post [AdAge]
Huffington Post suspends writer, apologizes for over-aggregated post [Romenesko]
HuffPo Suspends Writer for Doing ‘What We Were Taught and Told to Do’ [Gawker]
Thanks for the Apology, Huffington Post. Now Please Apologize to the Writer You Suspended [AdAge]
Huffington Post aggregation: What standards? [WP]