New York Times executive editor Bill Keller picked a fight with Arianna Huffington on Thursday and he's not coming away from it looking very good. In a widely-pilloried column in The New York Times Magazine, Keller took aim at news aggregators (like the site you're reading now) for repackaging the work of other journalists and taking away revenues "that might otherwise be directed to the originators of the material." He specifically targeted the "queen of aggregation," Arianna Huffington, who "discovered that if you take celebrity gossip, adorable kitten videos, posts from unpaid bloggers and news reports from other publications, array them on your Web site and add a left-wing soundtrack, millions of people will come." On top of that, he expressed bewilderment over AOL's $315 million valuation of The Huffington Post, which he pointed out--as many have--prizes aggregation over original journalism.
On Thursday night, the "queen" responded with a lengthy retort on her website:
I wonder what site he's been looking at. Not ours, as even a casual look at HuffPost will show. Even before we merged with AOL, HuffPost had 148 full-time editors, writers, and reporters engaged in the serious, old-fashioned work of traditional journalism. As long ago as 2009, Frank Rich praised the work of our reporters in his column. Paul Krugman more recently singled out the work of our lead finance writer. Columbia Journalism Review has credited our work for advancing the public's understanding of the national foreclosure crisis, and a pair of our Washington reporters recently received a major journalism prize. Matthew Yglesias, Felix Salmon, Catherine Rampell, are among the many others who have cited the work of our reporters. Did Keller not notice that?
By and large, media pundits seem to be siding with Huffington.
Richard Adams at The Guardian remains unimpressed by Keller's arguments:
As debates go, this is one that isn't going to be a highpoint in the history of American journalism. It's not as if the New York Times isn't above doing some aggregation itself, or indeed running stories about celebrities. Meanwhile the Huffington Post has always contained a substantial amount of original content, and Arianna Huffington has done a brilliant job creating a major news website out of nothing.
Matthew Ingram at Gigaom says Keller's piece is a sign that he still doesn't understand aggregation:
Keller seems to be missing the point that all media--both online and offline--is, to some extent, about aggregation. (He’s not the only one; the New Republic had a similarly wrong-headed piece about it recently). Even newspapers aggregate content from newswires and occasionally rewrite it to make it their own. Yes, they pay those newswires for the privilege, and so does the
Huffington Post. The difference is that it pays in attention, which it directs back to the original source, just as Google pays with links when it aggregates content at Google News. According to a Huffington Post staffer, news websites actually beg the site to aggregate their content, since it gets more traffic.
Hamilton Nolan at Gawker says the piece demonstrates an "inability to understand capitalism." He focuses on Keller's astonishment that "we have bestowed our highest honor--market valuation--not on those who labor over the making of original journalism but on aggregation."
Huh. You know Bill, if you read the New York Times' media reporting, you'd probably have a much clearer understanding of why that is. Did you know that Bill Keller's dad was the head of Chevron? Funny that he doesn't understand how market value works.
New York magazine's Julie Gerstein adds, "it didn't take long for New York Times editor Bill Keller to prove why the guy who edits the paper may not be the best one to write its columns, too."