Trevor Butterworth is the latest to come to the defense of former Washington Post blogger Elizabeth Flock, and I hereby unironically aggregate his critique of “an ethically flexible form of ‘journalism’ which involves reporting news from elsewhere.”
Butterworth writes that, contrary to what Ben Goldacre said on Twitter, aggregation isn’t like flipping burgers. McDonald’s can quickly cook and sell burgers of consistent quality (he said, restraining himself) anywhere in the world because it’s always cooking the same things.
Aggregated news stories, on the other hand, may all sound similar and share the same formal qualities (lots of links!), but each is the product of a different set of ingredients. In McAggregate, you are never going to flip the exact same burger twice. This means the probability that you’re going to unknowingly report something false or miss a crucial ingredient is much, much higher than McDonald’s is likely to serve an undercooked burger. … This is a game in which the participants are going to fail, sooner or later.
Erik Wemple, media blogger for The Washington Post, made a similar point when he talked to my colleague Craig Silverman:
“Consider, too, the unique tyranny of what Flock was doing. In BlogPost, she had to hop from topic to topic on a moment’s notice. On March 23, for example, here’s the topical terrain that she traveled: The Toulouse shootings; Robert Bales; Jim Yong Kim; the Pope; and a news roundup.
One of the reasons that beat reporters are able to minimize error is that the material that they approach each day is thematically confined, and the players are usually familiar faces. Flock had no such rhythm. It doesn’t surprise me that she felt a lot of pressure.