Outrage: WSJ In Blog Duplicity Scandal

As any political campaign manager knows, sanctimonious attacks only invite a more outraged rebuttal. The Wall Street Journal's Google-slamming editor just learned how quickly anger boomerangs online.

The editor, Robert Thomson, has been brutal; amplifying the views of his boss Rupert Murdoch, the Journal chief Tuesday called aggregators of newspaper content like blogs and Google "parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet" whose "cynicism... about so-called traditional media is only matched by their opportunism in exploiting the quality of traditional media."

The aggregators were making money off content "created by others" and "shamelessly" undermining the brands that originally created that content. Stealing, in short.

Within two days, the so-called parasites were themselves upset: Why was the Journal's AllThingsD technology website excerpting several paragraphs from their blog posts and posting it a Journal website without permission?

Not being the types to attend or obsess over newspaper conferences, they seemed unaware of Thomson's earlier comments. But judging by Andy Baio's roundup of reactions, they were as taken aback as Thomson, if a bit more genteel in responding:

  • "What the hell is this," Delicious founder Joshua Schachter wrote after his story was copied onto Journal servers.
  • "I sure wish they asked me first," wrote Metafilter creator Matt Haughley. "That's a hell of a lot of ads on my 'excerpt.'"
  • "Deliberately confusing and deceptive," productivity publisher Merlin Mann told Baio.

(Baio has other responses, including two positive ones, at the link above.)

Kara Swisher, a former Journal reporter and coproducer of AllThingsD, responded quickly and sensibly. She trimmed some of the longer excerpts Baio showed her and explained she'd take down any content if asked. She indicated she'd add a disclaimer to make clearer the origin of the content.

Some might say AllThingsD.com still violates copyright law (it still takes several sentences, even several paragraphs); others would point out its practices are identical to what sites like the Huffington Post have been doing for some time; still others would say it's helping other sites by sending traffic.

But it's hard to argue with the observation that Swisher responded reasonably. And her critics, despite their initial shock, seem happy to reason back in all fairness and good faith. If only the Journal would do them the same courtesy when the shoe starts out on the other foot.

[Waxy.org via Daring Fireball]