AdAge media columnist Simon Dumenco recently posed a good question to the online news community: “What constitutes unfair — unethical — aggregation?”
The question came up after Dumenco noticed that a Huffington Post writer had cribbed the central idea and supporting factual information from Dumenco’s earlier piece, “Poor Steve Jobs Had to Go Head to Head With Weinergate in the Twitter Buzzstakes. And the Weiner Is …”, in her rewrite of the piece, titled “Anthony Weiner vs. Steve Jobs: Who Won On Twitter?” Dumenco points out that the link embedded at the end of HuffPo’s piece, which appears to direct readers to the original article, can’t be considered genuine when all the important information has been leached to the extent that the original piece holds no further draw.
Peter Goodman, executive business editor at HuffPo, responded to this complaint by suspending the writer accused of overzealous curation, apologizing to Dumenco, and assuring him that “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. That is how we train our writers and editors to handle stories such as this.”
Putting aside for the moment any questions concerning the legitimacy of Goodman’s claims about HuffPo’s aggregation policies: Where do we draw the line between aggregation/rewriting and plagiarism? How much rewriting is too much? And when is an aggregator’s link to the original story an inadequate or deceptive means of citation?