OFF THE GRID

I’m Proud to Kill the News

Aug 20, 09 | 6:47 AM   byMichael Wolff
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The Guardian in London ran a piece Tuesday by my friend Ed Pilkington, the paper’s correspondent in New York, about the financial woes of the photographer Annie Leibovitz. The piece was an efficient summary of this week’s article in New York magazine about Leibovitz’s spendthrift ways. While Pilkington is an accomplished reporter, he does not appear to have picked up the phone to have confirmed any details in the piece or to have added to it in any way. He just summarized.

I mention this because Dan Kennedy, a Guardian writer and a commentator about the media who lives in Boston, had a post on the Guardian’s website Tuesday excoriating Newser for…well…summarizing news.

Newser is, he declared, “the most egregious example of abusive aggregation.”

There’s a label I can wear proudly.

Kennedy is one of those journalism-school-type media writers (he teaches journalism at Northeastern University in Boston) who mostly decries the history of the profession he is part of. He wishes journalism were something other than what it is: efficient, popular, and commercial communication.

Indeed, the job that has historically occupied the time of most journalists is, however humble, summarizing—reducing lots of information to a smaller amount of information. This might be information from government documents and corporate press releases, or it might come from other publications, a practice—digesting and abstracting—long protected in intellectual property law.

Of course, what Kennedy objects to most is that Newser may be taking money from the original producers of the content that we are summarizing.

Given that most of the news brands where Newser finds the articles it summarizes are far better known than Newser, it would indicate that news consumers are making a conscious choice by coming to us. They come to Newser, rather than the New York Times, probably because they want what we are offering: short articles from many more sources. We’re a different order of news than the Times’ news: We’re quicker.

We aren’t stealing from the Times and other big news brands, we’re making their stuff better—or at least different. We’re doing what journalism is supposed to do best: giving the customer what he wants.

Dan Kennedy is upset that newspapers can’t find a way to make money. He blames that on Newser and other aggregators like the Huffington Post who are catering to the “skim-and-run model” of news consumption.

There you have it: The problem with just about every newspaper website is that it’s hard to just skim and run. Dan Kennedy believes that journalism is about investigating government malfeasance, talking truth to power, about adhering to the ethical rules expounded by great (and not so great) journalism schools. Cough. Journalism is about skimming and running.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at VanityFair.com, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at michael@newser.com.

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OFF THE GRID is about why the news is the news. Here are the real motivations of both media and newsmakers. Here's the backstory. This is a look at the inner workings of desperate media, the inner life of the publicity crazed, and the true meaning of the news of the day.

 

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