News Aggregators A Mixed Blessing

David Kesmodel and Vauhini Vara argue at the Wall Street journal that news aggregators like GoogleNews are a mixed blessing for the news business.

For years, news organizations have had a love-hate relationship with Web sites like Google News that aggregate articles from many sources. Newspapers and television stations like the traffic they get when such sites link to their online stories, but they don’t like playing second fiddle to the Internet companies as a news destination.

Now, the relationship is growing more complex. Three big newspaper companies — Gannett Co., Knight-Ridder Inc. and Tribune Co. — have jointly purchased a majority stake in, a Web site that aggregates headlines from more than 10,000 sources, including news sites and blogs. Together, the three newspaper giants operate more than 140 newspaper Web sites, many of which turn up on Topix searches. Topix said it won’t give priority to stories from those sites in its index. Financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse, a French newswire service, filed a lawsuit last week against Google Inc., accusing the Internet giant of featuring articles, photos and headlines by AFP on its Google News site without AFP’s permission. AFP is seeking $17.5 million in damages. The company has filed a similar lawsuit in France, said Joshua Kaufman, AFP’s general counsel in the U.S.

The New York Times [rss] has more on the Topix acquisition. is a news aggregator, continuously monitoring updates on thousands of news media Web sites as well as government sites and organizing links to articles in more than 300,000 subject areas. already keeps track of news from sites operated by Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Tribune, but the acquisition will allow it to approach the newspapers’ online advertisers about using its technology for customizing ads. It will also let add material like television listings.

Rich Skrenta, chief executive and a co-founder of, said that in exchange, the newspapers’ Web sites would get more fine-tuned technology and a better way to show their readers “the ads that they actually want to see.” “They get powerful contextual advertising technology, and we make their ads more profitable,” Mr. Skrenta said, referring to what he said was’s ability to place relevant ads next to articles. He also said the newspaper companies, which collectively operate more than 140 newspaper Web sites with nearly 30 million unique visitors a month, would direct more readers to

Oddly, I had never heard of Topix until this morning. I do, however, use GoogleNews and YahooNews quite extensively. While I still check the sites of major news outlets, notably NYT, WaPo, and ESPN regularly, it’s true that I rely on the aggregators to alert me to breaking news on developing cases. The Terri Schiavo case is a perfect example of this. I’m more likely to get word of the lastest news on such a story at GoogleNews than at any single outlet.

OTB has been a GoogleNews site for a couple of weeks now and I’ve definitely gotten some traffic from it. Not only do they excerpt my stories within eight minutes or so of my posting them but they’ve even thumbnailed images from the site. While I felt a little sheepish about the whole thing at first, reasoning that my coverage was not as worthwhile as that of the New York Times or Washington Post, I’ve reconsidered. Most of what one gets from even the Big Boys on a hot story is straight off the AP or AFP wires. My excerpt and link to that is as valuable as anyone else’s. Plus, on most stories, I include multiple links and excerpts, making my post a one-stop-shopping point for those interested in the story.

While I can understand the Big Boys being upset that some podunk paper or, shudder, a blog gets essentially the same priority on the aggregators as they do, it’s doubtful they are losing substantial business. It’s not as if people are sitting on the NYT or WaPo site hitting “refresh” constantly.

Update (1025): Rich Skrenta just e-mailed suggesting that I take a look at Topix’ aggregation of the Terri Schiavo news. It’s interesting although it’s not immediately obvious why it would be preferable to GoogleNews’ search result for Terri Schiavo. The latter appears to do a better job of consolidating stories based on the same feed (e.g., lumping all the AP versions together). That said, I’m more accustomed to GoogleNews and thus familiar with how to use it.

FILED UNDER: Media, Science & Technology, , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.