31 December 2011

Business Insider story advises Patch to "keep scraping content"

A former Patch salesman advised the company to keep scraping content, ostensibly because "cheap content is king."

Nate Carter, I am glad you have high hopes for the future of local news. But tell me, why should an editorial department listen to a salesperson about content generation? I'm sure you have an intelligent perspective, but the mingling of news with sales in any way is exactly where journalism should not be going.

But this is beside the point. Consider Mr. Carter's grand homage to Huffington Post's (over) aggregation techniques:
Keep scraping content. This should be done at HQ. Have 4 or 5 low-level staffers at Patch HQ who just content scrape from around the nation. We all hate it, but see point #2. This could be managed with simple Google News alerts and a copy and paste technique. If they perform well they could be promoted to the Huffington Post.
Does this only scare me? How could anyone talk so blatantly about plagiarism as if it were normal? (The #2 he referred to mentioned a heavier load for the local editors, so I'm guessing that scraping would help them hit their story quota. I almost think this entire post is sarcasm...)

Aggregation can be a great story supplement, and smart aggregators such as Jim Romenesko offer a valuable service for content creators. But over-aggregators such as the Huffington Post straddle an ethical line and in some cases cross that line and leave it in a dust-filled distance. 

Sometimes over-aggregation could be copyright infringement. It's not fair use if an aggregation provides enough content to prevent a person from visiting the site where the original story was published, as this post by AdAge's Simon Dumenco illustrates.

Some of Mr. Carter's suggestions to make Patch more efficient make sense. Patch should cut its editorial staff, but the suggestion to employ freelancers to cover beats is already happening, at least at some Patch sites. 

The bottom line is we should all be appalled that content scraping is being suggested. What happens when we scrape the scrape of a scrape? When does it end?


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