I don't really think that's the premise of the story? It's really more about what publishers are doing when old content floats to the top—something we should be thinking about too—both how to take advantage and how to prevent confusion.
(Blanket bloviating disclaimer.)
The old content didn’t “float to the top” organically (“ “ “organically” ” ”); it was actively promoted by NYMag. Which I think is think is totally fine. But the Nieman piece hinges on a weird line—“New York pushed it out to Facebook yesterday, as if it were a new story”—which implies that the traffic it’s drawing is somehow deceptive or unearned.
Nieman’s story would never have been written if the article in question had just been published. And Nieman doesn’t ask, as a matter of course, why new stories are popular or draw traffic or are being talked about. (Unless it’s Upworthy or some new outfit.) It’s somehow interesting or noteworthy, however, when an “old” story or essay is drawing large amounts of traffic. But the particular timing or age of Internet content—and its relation to its popularity or resonance—feel like the least interesting thing about it.
Nieman here! To be honest, I was originally just going to write something about the BBC bit at the end — I thought it was interesting that they were trying to flag old stuff that popped up as most popular. That particular Brandi Chastain story was harmless, but there are also newsier stories from years ago that get a bump on social (Facebook, usually) and can give an inaccurate impression. (Like something about, say, bad things being done to Christians in Nigeria several years ago that might resurface because it gets spread around again as "new.")
The New York thing was just another example to show an older story getting new life. I think that's great! News sites should produce more stuff that has a long shelf life. That's less a problem for magazines than it is for newspapers and newspaper-like online sites. I'm not saying NY was being deceptive at all — but pushing out a personal essay from last year as if it were new is at least a little unusual, no?