So the problem isn’t aggregation. It’s that the entire structure of the media world currently provides publications with huge incentives to aggregate and comparatively small incentives to actually create. If your goal is to increase revenue by increasing Web traffic, it’s simply much cheaper and more efficient to excerpt or summarize other stories, rather than to produce your own. And so, increasingly, we are seeing publications devote more and more attention to aggregating—to the model of success pioneered by HuffPo. The New Republic is no exception: We face the same pressures, the same set of skewed incentives, as everyone else; and we too are trying to figure out ways to garner more search traffic through aggregation. In a different world, this is not where we would choose to put our resources. But the fact is, we don’t have much of a choice.
It’s a cliché, but it’s true: The creation of original information and arguments is tremendously important to both the functioning of democracy and the existence of a decent, reflective culture. So, it’s worth taking a step back and asking if there isn’t something that can be done to remedy this situation. The obvious thing is for Google to think more expansively about how to reward the production of original journalism—that is, not just to penalize scrapers and content farms but also to actively reward publications for writing stories rather than aggregating the material of others.