Former executive editor and now the “vice-president at large” of the Washington Post, Leonard Downie Junior, does not like online news aggregation sites. Describing the operators of these sites as “parasites living off journalism produced by others”, the representative of the newspaper that brought down the corrupt Nixon administration has turned his fire on local news sites including, by implication, TheYamYam; the only credible source for news about Walsall.
DC is a long way from Walsall, but for such an influential and respected figure as Downie to launch this attack is proof, if proof were needed, that the printed media either simply do not understand news aggregation or deliberately choose to confuse it with something else. The bulk of his rant was directed at the Huffington Post, a liberal and rather successful US aggregation site, which Downie accuses of peddling predictable political prejudice “along with titillating gossip and sex”. This argument would be reasonable if it were posited by anyone other than a newspaper editor. Today (Friday), the Huffington Post gave prominence to the disturbing execution of a “low IQ” woman from Virginia who murdered her husband. The Washington Post also covered the story giving equal coverage to the news of the death of Eddie Fisher and his “scandalous marriages”. At the foot of the page is a “story” about a person called Katie Perry who has been edited out of an edition of the Muppet Show because her dress was too revealing. Click for more pictures.
In a world where freedom of expression is, or at least should be, a basic right, the printed press backed up with outdated legislation on libel, plagiarism and copyright find it convenient to place aggregation in the same box as individual blogs or comments on Twitter or Facebook. Indeed, today is the day of the appeal of a man convicted of making a joke on Twitter. The motivation behind this head-in-the-sand stance and the outburst from Mr Downie is more to do with commercial pragmatism than a defence of accurate, credible and verifiable journalism. As newspaper sales nosedive, even the most brutal of editors are beginning to notice the alarming increase in the number of former diligent and hard working journalist now flipping burgers, stacking supermarket shelves or establishing their own websites.
The redoubtable Arianna Huffington, founder of the HuffPo did not take long to respond to to Downie`s rant. She blogged:
“Once again, some in the old media have decided that the best way to save, if not journalism, at least themselves, is by pointing fingers and calling names. It’s a tactic familiar to school yard inhabitants everywhere: when all else fails, reach for the nearest insult and throw it around indiscriminately.”
As Downie himself points out, the press now reports news as entertainment and entertainment as news. This has left a vacuum that is being filled by news sites like TheYamYam which directs its readership to stories that are about and are relevant to the local area. Having had the predictable political prejudice, non-stories and fluff filtered out, the reader is linked to the fully acknowledged and fully credited source of the piece thereby generating more traffic to the original website. Hardly parasitic. Huffington said:
“People like Downie continue to confuse aggregation with wholesale misappropriation, which violates copyright law.”
The few remaining overworked hacks on our local papers might like to consider her words as they cut and paste biased press releases from interested parties and cobbled together nonsense gleaned from meaningless Freedom of Information requests.
TheYamYam also offers the equivalent of a letters page where local nutters, including the plastic hippo, are indulged in their misguided opinion that anyone is remotely interested in their deranged babble. Their comments, like letters to newspapers, do not reflect the editorial policy of the website. If Mr Woodward and Mr Bernstein were to investigate and comment on Twittering dogs, flash floods at the Manor hospital, an idiot drug dealer in Caldmore and the dire need for Walsall to smash Hartlepool, then they might get lucky and be published on TheYamYam.
It could be bigger than Watergate.