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HuffPo Faces Criticism After ‘Indefinitely’ Suspending Writer for Over-Aggregating a Post

Earlier today, we aggregated curated an Ad Age post by Simon Dumenco, where he described how Huffington Post’s aggregation of his article gave it only a meager bump in traffic, calling into question HuffPo’s rationale that aggregation drives major traffic to smaller sites. FishbowlNY itself noted that HuffPo’s aggregated version of Dumenco’s piece was around 250 words long — and the original article was about 676 words — so we weren’t surprised that HuffPo’s near full-on rewriting enticed only a few to check out the original piece.

HuffPo took notice. Poynter has posted an email to Dumenco from HuffPo Executive Business Editor Peter Goodman, in which Goodman apologizes for this “unacceptable” occurrence (great!) and adds that “the writer of the offending post has been suspended indefinitely” (what?!) The full email is below the jump.

This has struck some as an extreme, even aggravating reaction. For one, many who might want to speak publicly about their experiences with HuffPo may now prefer to hold back out of fear of getting a writer — who seems to have just been doing her  job — fired.  Choire Sicha writes at The Awl, “This is along the lines of arresting hookers instead of johns, or drug users instead of drug importers, or something.” He goes on to write:

The writer, who seems to be Yale class of (something fairly recent), Amy Lee, was doing pretty much what she’d been trained to do, either overtly or covertly, and she took the fall for the HuffPo, which is so obviously baloney… So the Huffington Post thinks it gets off clean from these entrenched practices by temporarily canning a smart young person who’s doing one of their terrible jobs as a way to get into writing and as a way to pay bills. It shouldn’t.

On a personal note, FishbowlNY (okay, just me this time) recalls my own beginning experiences in aggregation, where, on account of years of college training, I was nervous that if I kept my posts too short, it would look to my bosses like I was slacking off somehow, or I would lose too many of the necessary subtleties in the original article. My natural instinct was to make sure I had read and digested articles fully, and provided comprehensive summaries. Fortunately for me, I had some kindly editors who guided me in the right direction, and didn’t immediately fire me for my sincere (albeit misguided) attempts to impress them. I don’t know if this is the case for Amy Lee. In his email, Goodman writes that at HuffPo, “we train our writers and editors to handle stories such as this.” So perhaps she has been adequately trained and this is all her fault. But I can’t help but feel sympathetic to her.

Goodman’s full email is below.

Dear Simon:

I oversee business and technology coverage here at the Huffington Post Media Group and I’m writing in response to your July 11 post about our aggregation practices.

Let me say, right off the bat, 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.

We have made a very substantial investment in original reporting here, bringing in dozens of new writers in recent months. And while we will continue to curate the news for our audience, what occurred in this instance is entirely unacceptable and collides directly with the values that are at work in our newsroom. We have zero tolerance for this sort of conduct. Given that, the writer of the offending post has been suspended indefinitely.

More broadly, your complaint has prompted us to redouble our efforts to make sure our reporters and editors understand that this sort of thing is unambiguously unacceptable.

Please accept our apologies.  Thank you for your time. I’m happy to discuss this further, as needed.

Regards,

Peter Goodman

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