Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Sympathy for the aggregators?

The UK-based news aggregator NewsNow has published a defence of its place on the web in the face of threats of action from established media.

Interestingly when we published a draft manifesto for e-journalism a few weeks ago we put up for discussion two propositions on this issue as we did not think they should be included. (And in spite of quite a lot of interest, nobody has commented! :-;)

These were that:
a) RSS feeds should only contain original writing.
b) Journalists should withdraw cooperation from news aggregators that carry advertising.

This is in effect what is now being considered by major news organisations, along with some potential legal action, placing the business of organisations such as NewsNow in peril.

You must expect us to have mixed feelings on this. These people do get a free ride on the back of working journalists and have certainly made life difficult for us in past years. However they can also perform a useful function, providing a more efficient service than search engines to enable the browser to scan what's going on in the news.

Unlike search engines, aggregators have been able to market specialist RSS feeds to websites - ensuring that none of the fees paid reach the originators of news. Some have very, very aggressive marketing campaigns.

However as a news provider you don't have to participate - and it is true most news organisations have chosen to use aggegation-friendly formats. Until a couple of years ago we did not participate and used a very simple technique to prevent aggregation. That is to keep multiple stories on a single page - ensuring there is no unique URL per story. Now we have changed our format and some of our content can be aggregated.

Any website owner who thinks they are getting the full range of our output by using a third-party aggregator is simply misguided. The news feeds on this site are deliberately selective - interesting and varied, I hope, but selective. In contrast, aggregated RSS feeds tend to be repetitive and lack depth. A typical feed will contain no more than one or two stories, recycled in different formats by different media - with limited or no access to anything that happened as recently as one or two days previously. It sometimes beggars belief that people actually pay for these.

So, at the end, we left just one provision about aggregators in the draft manifesto.

It was this:
12/ News aggregation organisations should be subject to specific monitoring by regulatory authorities for monopolistic power.

No prizes for guessing that we had Google News in mind.

But should propositions a) and b) also be included?

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