About Me

  • I've spent more than 25 years at the intersection of traditional and digital journalism. I've helped to invent ways to read and interact with the news and advertising on computer screens and iPads, and before that, I wrote news stories on typewriters and six-ply paper. I co-founded WashingtonPost.com and hyperlocal pioneers Backfence.com and GrowthSpur; served as editor of Philly.com; taught media entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland; and have done product-development and strategy consulting for all sorts of media and Internet companies and startups. You can read more about me here.

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« False Prophets of Profit | Main | Online Subscriptions? Enough Already »

April 02, 2009


Michael Becker

I think part of the reason that many news organizations hesitate to aggregate is that they fear the blurring of boundaries between the brands of news.

Using my own state as an example, if my local Bozeman Daily Chronicle starts posting stories written by the Missoulian or the Billings Gazette -- even if they're in addition to locally produced stories -- then what becomes of the product we know as the Chronicle?

Does aggregating weaken the identity of a news organization? Is that identity still as important as it might have once been in the hey dey of cities with multiple, competing news outlets?


I can think of two reasons you're not seeing more aggregation/curation at news orgs. They may not be the only reasons, but I bet they're near the top of the list:

The first is people. Think about it, most newspaper editors have lived their professional lives tightly intertwined with newspapers and not just as mere "avid consumers" but as uncontrolled newspaper junkies (I say that like its a Good Thing because it is, or it was). The problem is, these are often the very same people we're asking to transition often overnight to the web and it just ain't gonna happen that fast. A lot of these folks are still resistant to the web and many still even resent it.

The second reason is technology. Newsrooms have never been particular hotbeds of technology and in many cases the software used to "put out the paper" is from another time. Monolithic and exceedingly expensive it's very hard to adapt to new models (and shrinking IT staffing doesn't help here either). Now when new print pagination software does finally appearing that supports the web intrinsically and not as some bolted-on afterthought, it faces economic obstacles that weren't there before. In other words, papers can't afford to upgrade.

Mark Potts

Marc: Good points, but there are plenty of bright people in newsrooms (especially in Web operations) who understand the need and potential for aggregation. They just haven't been asked or allowed to do it. And it's not just a matter of tools and technology--if you have a Web content-management system that supports links (duh), then you can aggregate. It's pretty much that easy. Any paper with a Web site can and should be doing it.

Of course, limited staffing is an issue, unfortunately, though I'd argue that requires a stronger look at priorities. As Jeff Jarvis says, do what you do best and link to the rest. And with some news organizations so short-sighted that they're actually making cuts in their Web operations, in additional to paring back traditional news jobs, then maybe the outlook is hopeless in some cases. All bets should be on finding a way to the future at this point, not crippling efforts to get to that future.

Michael: The point you raise about potential confusion is an interesting one, and in fact, the main problem I have with the NBC stations' aggregated product is that they don't bother to identify the source of content, at least not up front. They present everything anonymously, as if it was their own. I think that's stupid for many reasons, not the least of which is that those brands have credibility, and they're not taking advantage of it.

But having said that, I don't see potential confusion over a news organization's "identity" as a major issue. The point is to present readers with the BEST content--and to be seen as the authoritative guide to that content. (Insert that Jarvis quote again!)

That's the theory behind aggregation: People come to Drudge Report or Google News in droves because they're one-stop shops for a wide variety of news sources. Even though those sites are designed to send readers elsewhere, the readers keep returning for more.

That's the value of aggregation and curation, as I describe it: Establishing your site as the best single source for information, regardless of source. Worrying that this somehow diminishes your own content is missing the point--if there's better content out there, your content is already diminished. The identity of the aggregating news organization comes from its expertise in curating the news, not just from its own ability to cover it.

Thanks much for your thoughtful comments.

Stan Spire

But will curation become another way to reinstate the gatekeepers? The advantage of the Web is that I can publish on my blog without any editor telling me what to write. I think I have some valid points, but if the New York Times doesn't link to my post, does that mean what I have to say is automatically invalid?

People are now curating on their own thanks to Google and linkage that isn't dependent on mainstream media.

Forget the top-down vertical model. The horizontal peer-to-peer model works just fine.


Curation is something that automatically happens as part of human nature. It happens in life (choosing friends, interests, food, etc.) as well as online.
Even people who explore a multitude of websites have their favorites, their trusted sources, and/or the ones they go to first. That's curation, just on a personal (and possibly subconscious) level.
Curation is a timesaver, and with time seemingly at a premium for many busy people, someone else doing the curating isn't a bad idea. The difference with what I believe Mark is proposing is the curation starts from the infinite pool of the Internet, rather than the very finite pool of a newspaper's staff.
The problem for smaller papers (i.e. where I work) is it may be too late, as far as staffing goes. My 6-day paper has 3 copy editors/layout people and a webmaster who's also had to be the IT guy for a year-plus. We'll likely lose our managing editor, who also does layout at least once a week, to retirement/attrition.
Add to that an unwieldy, corporate-controlled website, and the curation possibilities are curtailed. Ergo, maybe someone else, outside the paper, will have to take up that challenge.


This is exactly what I am doing - creating local news sites for inner city urban suburbs in Melbourne, Australia including http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroy/. The business plan is that there is no business - it's a direct aggregation of local UGC content with no exploitation, no advertising and minimal intermediation between content creators and content consumers.


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