Michael Wolff’s doomed aggregation strategy

By Felix Salmon
April 5, 2010
Sharon Waxman of The Wrap and Michael Wolff of Newser: just look at how the latter responded to the former. Not only did they link to the HufPo excerpt of Waxman's complaint rather than to the complaint itself, they also took to hurling thinly-veiled legal threats, with Newser's CEO writing to Waxman saying that "we are not free-riders and we would consider it libelous for you to make that claim outside correspondence".

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It’s pretty easy to adjudicate the fight between Sharon Waxman of The Wrap and Michael Wolff of Newser: just look at how the latter responded to the former. Not only did they link to the HufPo excerpt of Waxman’s complaint rather than to the complaint itself, they also took to hurling thinly-veiled legal threats, with Newser’s CEO writing to Waxman saying that “we are not free-riders and we would consider it libelous for you to make that claim outside correspondence”.

Of course Newser is a bunch of free-riders: Wolff admits as much himself. His passive-voice construction is the giveaway: “The facts are the facts—resorted, rewritten, republished as soon as they are known.” And Waxman shows quite clearly that he’s not a generous part of the blogospheric conversation: he quite clearly wants Newser’s readers to stay on his own site, rather than go anywhere else.

This, for instance, is what Wolff is referring to when he talks about a “BIG RED SOURCE BOX” which his readers are welcome to use to find the external links on his site:

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As a general rule, links to other sites should always be part of the flow of the story, and should be inserted at the first available opportunity. (Wolff waits until the very end of his piece before he links to Waxman.) If you confine your links to the bottom of the blog entry, as Barry Ritholtz sometimes does, or put them over to the right, people will miss them, and won’t consider them to be an integral piece of your post.

And the practice of serving roadblock ads at people leaving your site, rather than people landing there, is particularly skeevy. “Please take a moment to visit our sponsor,” it says in a narrow bar at the top of the page. “You will be redirected to [the external site] in a few seconds”. Well, I’ve had that page open for a few minutes now, and there hasn’t been any redirect. And when you do land on a Newser page, the site has a habit of breaking your Back button, too: it’s extremely hard to go back to where you came from if you stay there for more than a few seconds.

The big point here is that Wolff and Murdoch have more in common than Wolff might care to admit: both aspire to being one-stop news shops in an era when people get their news content from hundreds of different sites, and neither has any particular interest in sending his readers elsewhere. It’s a strategy which not only annoys others but which is also, ultimately, self-defeating. A website which fails to leverage the enormous power of the external link is a website fighting with one hand behind its back. And in today’s ultra-competitive world, that spells doom.

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