Ripping Off Newspapers

Aug 3, 2009 by

I’ve touched on this topic before – the whole premise of sites taking content from a newspaper, then republishing parts of it and selling their own ads.

The “borrowing” site gets lots of traffic and makes money off selling ads on their own site. The newspaper might see some uptick in traffic, but they’re sure not getting any of the “borrowing” site’s revenue.

In the biz, these types of sites are known as aggregators – the Drudge Report, Newser, Gawker and the like. They’re popular. You can visit one of these sites and get a pretty good snapshot of the biggest news of the day.

I bring all this up because reporter Ian Shapira of The Washington Post wrote about this very thing. And because it happened to him when Gawker redid one of his stories. You can check out Shapira’s column here. It’s worth reading and does a pretty good job of showing how it all works.

Shapira’s 1,500-word article involved, among other things: an hour-long phone interview and typing out 3,000 words of notes; attending a two-hour seminar conducted by the subject of the article; four hours of transcribing those notes; and then writing the article.


After all the reporting, it took me about a day to write the 1,500-word piece. How long did it take Gawker to rewrite and republish it, cherry-pick the funniest quotes, sell ads against it and ultimately reap 9,500 (and counting) page views?  I called up Hamilton Nolan, the Gawker writer to whom I had been so grateful. “Probably took me,” he said, “you know . . . a half-hour to an hour.”

The problem is pretty basic. Shapira does all the work; another site does a quick rewrite and makes money basically off someone else’s work.

I have a problem with that.

Newspapers are in dire straits. And somehow allowing someone else to profit off a newspaper’s hard work without due compensation doesn’t sit well with me.  I’m not blaming the aggregators for becoming aggregators – they were smart.  But this whole idea that since it’s out on the Internet then it’s free-for-all is wrong.

Would you seriously not have a problem if someone else took your hard work, revamped it a little and made money off it?

Although tongue-in-cheek, or maybe not, Shapira ends his article on his article in a pretty good summation:


After talking with Denton, Nolan and others for this article, I still want a fluid blogosphere, but one where aggregators — newspapers included — are more transparent about whom they’re heavily excerpting. They should mention the original source immediately. And if bloggers want to excerpt at length, a fee would be the nice, ethical gesture.

So, Gawker, do me a favor. At least blog this piece. I’ll even write a headline for you (free of charge). How about: “Whiny WashPost Reporter Makes His Point: Respect the Genuine Article”? Oh — one other thing. If you sell ads against your posting, can you cut The Post a check?

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