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Yahoo News is an enhanced aggregation feed; it has always had some level of editorial management in the selection and placement of stories—though it posts up to 8,000 stories a day, so editorial involvement is fairly minimal. Like Google News, Yahoo News aggregates from across the web, but it gives preference to the approximately 200 media companies from which it licenses content—such as the Associated Press, Reuters, and ABC News. In return for the content, Yahoo News gives the partners a share of its ad revenue—in addition to sending them traffic.
Traffic to the news sections of Yahoo and Google is relatively small compared with the total traffic of these companies’ sites. For example, in one week in April 2011, Yahoo News represented about 6.5 percent of the total traffic to all Yahoo sites as determined by the online audience measurement company Hitwise. But Google News and Yahoo News are the first stop of the day for significant numbers of users, and that is considered a good predictor of multiple visits and customer loyalty. Yahoo and Google also let individual users customize their home pages by personal preferences—according to topic or news source. In the latest refinements, Yahoo has introduced a recommendation engine for stories called LiveStand, while Google introduced “News for You,” which keeps track of what stories a user has clicked on and provides related content.
Large media companies such as The New York Times and The Washington Post and independent companies like Flipboard are doing much the same thing—developing programs that can recommend stories and videos based on a user’s previous choices. Because of the wide variety of topics and the enormous volume of stories posted, this is a far more difficult problem than creating the algorithms that Amazon or Netflix use for recommendations. Some companies are also working on adding friends’ and networks’ reading choices to the recommendation engine.
On the other end of the spectrum, Huffington Post starts with algorithmic selections but puts them into the hands of human editors who set priorities for sections and then condense, rewrite, or bring several organizations’ versions of the same story together. HuffPost turbocharges the formula with a mix of social media, dynamic packaging, and photos and charts. These techniques lead to praise, criticism—and parody. Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert told viewers that, to retaliate for HuffPost’s republishing without permission the entire contents of his show’s website, he would create “The Colbuffington Repost,” that is, the entire Huffington Post, just renamed. Its re-re-packaged content would make him the owner of the “Russian nesting dolls of intellectual theft.”
Newser.com, the aggregation site co-founded by Michael Wolff, represents much of what legacy media companies hate about the web: It has little original reporting, and its stories are short rewrites of information from several other sites, with a design that emphasizes graphics. Wolff, a media critic who is now editor of Adweek, has spent much of his career playing provocateur—and driving people in the media business a little crazy. This effort is no different. Andrew Leonard, a writer for Salon, wrote a story called “If the Web doesn’t kill journalism, Michael Wolff will.” Leonard says that Newser displays a “truly precious degree of shamelessness. Even the slide shows are repackaged, rewritten and abbreviated versions of content originated by other publications.”