Ezra Klein of Vox.com vs. Tom Standage of The Economist

J. Bradford DeLong
Apr 14, 2015 · 5 min read

Basically, however much money http://vox.com asks me for, I will pay it gladly. Not so with http://economist.com.

Here’s why:

Ezra Klein: How Vox Aggregates: “I started as a blogger in the pre-social web, when the only way to build an audience was to have other sites quote or link…

…Everything I wrote, I wrote in the hopes that someone else would take it and try to use it on their site, with a link back to my site. The lesson of that, to me, was that writing on the internet is a positive-sum endeavor: I was creating content that helped other people make their sites better, and in using that content, they were helping me grow my site. Vox’s approach to aggregation — which Nate Silver criticized today on Twitter — is informed by that. Our policy, to our staff, is simple: any time we use work created by someone else, we need clear attribution to the original author and a link back to the source. When appropriate, we should do more than that: we should add to the conversation with new facts, ideas, or reporting.

The problem comes when we do it poorly — and in those cases, we deserve to get called out. Take the post that frustrated Silver. The attribution there was clear…. The post went on to argue with Silver…. This wasn’t just aggregation…. The graphic itself included a FiveThirtyEight watermark…. But the post didn’t include a link. This was carelessness, not malice, but it’s a violation of Vox’s internal standards…. Silver’s right to be upset… He has my apologies….

Aggregation has been around a whole lot longer than Google. Time magazine, for instance, began its life as an aggregation shop…. If you read Alan Brinkley’s biography of Henry Luce, you’ll find a furor that feels very familiar…. I helped to create Know More, a site dedicated to aggregating in a more ethical way. We wanted a way to make clear that even when something is aggregated well, that doesn’t mean there’s not much more information at the source… a big ‘Know More’ button that would lead people back to the original source to, well, learn more….

While aggregation has always been a clear service to readers, it can be enormously frustrating to writers…. But aggregation, when done correctly, offers value to the original source…. This informs Vox’s policies…. We want people to talk about our work, put it elsewhere, spread the Vox word. We’re currently working on products that will make it even easier for other sites to use our work…. This stuff is complex, and we don’t always get it right. So if you ever feel Vox isn’t using your work in the way you’d want, email me at ezra@vox.com and let me know. Our intention is always to do things in a way that is positive-sum, and if you ever feel we’re failing that ideal, we want to know, and we’ll work with you to change it.

Joseph Lichtenberg: Interviews Tom Standage: STANDAGE: “What we did with Espresso was instead of doing that in a weekly cadence, we should be doing it in a daily cadence…

…Espresso is again meant to be the daily desert-island briefing…. What we wanted to be was forward-looking — to give you the feeling of being ahead of the news, ‘this is what’s coming up today, and look out for this.’ Another aspect of it is… that we don’t do links…. If you want to get links you can get them from other people. You can go on Twitter and get as many as you like. But the idea was… you can get to the end of it without worrying that you should’ve clicked on those links in case there was something interesting…. We’ve clicked on the links already and we’ve decided what’s interesting, and we’ve put it in Espresso.

That’s the same that we do in the weekly as well — we’re not big on linking out. And it’s not because we’re luddites, or… don’t want to send traffic…. It’s that we don’t want to undermine the reassuring impression that if you want to understand Subject X, here’s an Economist article on it — read it and that’s what you need to know. And it’s not covered in links that invite you to go elsewhere. We’ll link to background, and we’ll link to things like white papers or scientific papers and stuff like that. The idea of a 600-word science story that explains a paper is that you only need to read the 600-word science story — you don’t actually have to fight your way through the paper. There is a distillation going on there.

That’s a big thing that we’re focusing on. How else can we apply the same values — which is the distillation and the finishability, the trend-spotting and the advocacy — how else can we apply them to new areas? So we have various things that are on the boil…

Now I read something like this from the very sharp Tom Standage, and my visceral reaction is strong and threefold:

  • Whatever the Economist wants to do, it will do it without my subscription or — if I remember to fire up AdBlock before visiting its website — the ability to sell my eyeballs to anyone.
  • Whatever the Economist wants to do, it will do it without any links back from me to them. My links are reserved for fellow gift-exchange participants in a merit-of-ideas-based positive-sum game — not for people whose business model is rather parasitic.
  • In fact, I hope the Economist fails: the world is full enough of cocksure people suffering from the Dunning-Kruger effect, and the Economist’s business model seems to be to create as many more of them as it can via providing its readers with the knowing false “reassuring impression” that a 600-word Economist article is all someone needs to know.

Is this reaction on my part too extreme? Irrational? I don’t think so. What would you do with a butcher whose business model was explicitly, publicly, and proudly to rig its scales so that they registered 15 oz. as a full lb.?

It seems to me that is what Tom Standage is promising to do…


Originally published at www.bradford-delong.com.

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Artisanal non-sponsored thinky-think from a primate, economist, utopian, shrill. Also: http://delong.typepad.com | http://equitablegrowth.org/blog | @delong

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