Online aggregators are financial vampires sucking the lifeblood out of the news business! You know — evil digital upstarts like the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and the New York Times.

The claim that websites which link to news stories are somehow harming them has been advanced by everyone from Journal editor Robert Thomson to AP chairman Dean Singleton. As geeks like Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Techmeme founder Gabe Rivera (left) have pointed out, they are blithering dunderheads who miss the point that links generate traffic to their own websites. Meanwhile, the doddering newspaper barons' cleverer lieutenants are trying to get into the business themselves.

The proof is in a new study by Hitwise, an online traffic-pattern tracker. Analyst Heather Dougherty has found that search engines, portals, social networks, and blogs generate about 40 percent of the link traffic to news websites, a proportion that has remained more or less unchanged for the past two years. Here's the chart:

Besides search engines, what generates the most traffic for news websites? Other news websites, it turns out., MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Times, and NBC's Weather Channel rank in the top 10 traffic sources to the news and media category, according to Dougherty's study.

Techmeme's Rivera argues that news organizations complaining about aggregators aren't just wrongheaded — they're hypocrites, too, he told CNET News:

[The] WSJ (a News Corp. property) and NYT (a key AP member) are both themselves news aggregators. Both maintain sections which quote headlines from external sites. So, constituents of these organizations already know aggregation is useful and fair. This knowledge just hasn't reached AP's and News Corp.'s leadership.

The implication: The newspaper industry's real problem isn't that sites like Google News and Techmeme exist. It's that they don't own them.

(Photo via Gabe Rivera)