No Tech Tapeworms Here! We Update Voices Policies on All Things Digital.
As of today, we have made important changes to the All Things Digital Voices section, which should be of interest to some (and not at all to others).
Why? Well, a few weeks ago, ATD was caught up in a bit of the controversy that broke out due to louder-than-usual complaints by several traditional media companies about how their content is treated on the Web.
Without going into a long explanation: They expressed displeasure that some sites were misusing their content via aggregation.
In fact, Robert Thomson, Dow Jones editor-in-chief and also The Wall Street Journal managing editor, was widely quoted in an interview in The Australian saying, “There is no doubt that certain websites are best described as parasites or tech tapeworms in the intestines of the internet.”
That sounds very painful, digitally speaking.
Many on the Web were incensed by that remark and then quickly pointed to the fact that ATD–which is owned by Dow Jones–has a section called Voices that publishes original columns done for our site and posts from other Dow Jones properties, but also points to third-party posts we admire and want our readers to be aware of.
Instead of using simple blue links, we feature these three kinds of content in a marked section on the front page and also in the Voices section itself, using their original headlines and short excerpts from the posts directly. We do not change the text we use, nor do we synopsize it.
We also identify the authors by title and picture (until now, we used a D icon if we could not get a picture, but have changed that going forward), and provide links to the original sites so readers can read the entire piece there.
But what we have been doing in Voices was not perfect or as clear as it should have been, which was written about by many, including Andy Baio of Waxy.org’s thoughtful piece on the issue.
In it, Baio talked to both bloggers and writers who were unhappy about being featured in Voices, as well as those who liked it.
While we did not agree with all the complaints in the story, the debate did make us realize we needed to be a lot clearer and more explicit about what we are doing, and to make those policies–which we had not posted in as much detail as we have, for example, about our ethics statements (you can see mine here, for example)–more prominent and transparent.
Some will disagree with the changes we have made and some will not think they go far enough.
But we hope we have addressed the key issues, including making it clearer that these posts are not ours, posting our policy prominently to avoid confusion about exactly what Voices is and removing all comments and sharing icons from posts that are not original to our site.
We are also now linking directly to original sites from the front page excerpt, without forcing anyone into the Voices section, where we also link to original sites.
We made a number of other changes, described below in their entirety, and are also now easy to find on both the front page and on the Voices page.
Let us be clear: We have always aimed for our Voices section to point to other posts around the Web that we find laudable, interesting or provocative in ways we think our readers should be aware, and we want readers to read them in full on their original site.
The myriad of issues around aggregation and linking is clearly likely going to result in a long and difficult debate, as the ways in which media are discovered by and delivered to consumers changes in the digital age.
Our site obviously believes deeply that linking and pointing and sharing are all an important part of the new media landscape and we remain open to trying to create a system that all players think is fair and equitable.
And, most of all, we hope no one will get too nauseous in the process.
Here’s the new explanation of what Voices is, which is permanently and prominently posted on the site:
This is a section of the All Things Digital Web site featuring posts from around the Web, from other Dow Jones properties and also original pieces we solicit. The section is now explicitly labeled that it comes “from other Web sites.”
We are fully aware of the controversies around how linking and aggregating are done on the Web, and we in no way are attempting to “scrape” original content created by others. Instead, regarding third-party posts, we are trying to point readers of this site to other posts from around the Web that we admire, and are trying to do so in the quickest manner possible.
The Internet is full of terrific content that is not ours and we want to help our readers find it by making editorial suggestions–Look, Mom, no algorithm!–of posts we think are worth their time.
That is why we have made even more changes to Voices to ensure we do this in the most transparent and timely way. While we don’t expect that everyone will agree with our policies, we have made changes that reflect our intent in pointing to content outside our site.
So here is exactly what we do:
We link directly to the post’s original site from the headline on the front page of All Things Digital and use the smallest amount of text possible to give readers a sense of the topic of the post.
Instead of using simple blue links, we feature these three kinds of content in Voices in a marked section on the front page and also in the Voices section itself, using their original headlines and short excerpts from the posts directly. We do not change the text we use, nor do we synopsize it.
We fully identify the site the author is writing for, to make sure readers are aware that this is not written for our site. We take attributions from the originating site, but if we have made an error or it is incomplete, we will make sure it is corrected as soon as we are informed of any problems.
We use pictures of the authors from their sites and, if one is not available, we now will be using generic male and female icons going forward, to minimize any confusion that the piece was written for our site.
You can also see the posts when you visit the Voices section, where we feature them, again with the smallest amount of text possible and direct links to the original site. In that section, we pick our favorite post of the day.
We have also removed comments and sharing icons from the posts that are not original to our site.
All content for Voices is selected by, and/or solicited by, the editors of All Things Digital.
If you do not want your pieces selected for our Voices section, please let us know immediately and we will refrain from pointing to any of your work. We will also, on request from an author or site, remove past posts, if so requested.
Regarding original material, we are open to proposals at any time. If you have an idea for an original Voices post, please send it, in the form of a short paragraph, to email@example.com. Include a second short paragraph describing yourself and your relevant credentials.
If we like it, we may invite you to submit the full post, and consider publishing it. However, we lack the staff and time to acknowledge such proposals or to engage in a debate or discussion about their suitability. You will only hear from us if we are interested.
We reserve the right to edit the original posts we publish in Voices, but all legal responsibility for their content rests solely with their authors.
We do not make editing changes to posts from other Web sites we point to, except to add ticker symbols when appropriate. We obviously claim no copyright over any content that is not original to our site.
We welcome and feedback about Voices at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even more disclosure: Dow Jones is owned by News Corp. (NWS), whose CEO and Chairman, Rupert Murdoch, also complained about some Internet aggregators, which this site covered here in MediaMemo.