Quartz’s practice of ‘linking out’ renews attention to aggregation debate

CJR | The New York Times | Knight Science Journalism at MIT | Nieman Journalism Lab
CJR’s Hazel Sheffield took a look at the new publication Quartz and didn’t like a few things: links take you away from the site, there’s no commenting, infographics aren’t interactive and It didn’t have enough original content when she looked at it.

One example: of the 13 stories that appeared under the heading “Energy Shocks” in the site’s first five hours, eight were either sponsored or aggregated.

With the caveat that I have no idea what “Energy Shocks” are, I view getting five original stories out in five hours as working at a pretty good clip. Quartz Senior Editor Zach Seward responds to Sheffield’s dismay about Quartz’s linking practices in the comments:

Our goals are just to cite our sources, acknowledge that there’s a whole wide world of great business reporting, and point our readers to material they should see. Only CJR could manage to view the presence of links as a sign of weakness. That’s kind of perfectly captured by your complaint that some links on Quartz don’t open in a new tab by default, “a curious decision by a new site hoping to get people to stick around.” Hah! No. We’re thrilled if readers leave Quartz because we’ve pointed them to great material elsewhere because we know they’ll love us for it and come back for more.

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Slatest news blog shifts from ‘comprehensive aggregation’ to ‘news companion’

Slate | The Slatest
Slate’s news blog, The Slatest, is bringing tighter focus and more editorial voice to its aggregation of daily news. “Starting Monday,” innovations editor Katherine Goldstein writes, “The Slatest has a new tagline: ‘Your News Companion.’ Rather than offering comprehensive aggregation, the new Slatest will highlight the excellent writing and keen editorial voice of Josh Voorhees, who’ll be bringing you definitive insight into the day’s events.”

Slatest’s last relaunch in April 2011 was aimed at “quickening its pace,” and as editor David Plotz explained to CJR, being “a very smart, entertaining brief on the most interesting stories of the day.” The Slatest arrived in 2009, as a re-invention of the site’s popular feature born 12 years earlier, “Today’s Papers.” In its first iteration, the Slatest was updated three times a day to reflect what then-Slate media critic Jack Shafer described as the three phases of the news cycle. Read more

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Elizabeth Flock will blog for U.S. News & World Report

Elizabeth Flock, who resigned from The Washington Post in April after a misattributed blog post drew a gnarly editor’s note, has a new gig. She’ll be lead writer on U.S. News & World Report’s Washington Whispers blog, which was written by Paul Bedard before he decamped for The Washington Examiner.

Reached by phone, Flock mostly referred me to her tweet announcing her new job. She said the social issues piece would mean writing about race, gender and immigration.

Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton weighed in on Flock’s departure in April, saying the paper had failed her. He wrote that he had spoken to other bloggers there.

They said that they felt as if they were out there alone in digital land, under high pressure to get Web hits, with no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing. Guidelines for aggregating stories are almost nonexistent, they said. And they believe that, even if they do a good job, there is no path forward. Will they one day graduate to a beat, covering a crime scene, a city council or a school board? They didn’t know. So some left; others are thinking of quitting.

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Aggregation is unlike fast food because you rarely write the same thing twice

The Awl
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 food processor reviews
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: Read more


Upworthy seeks the serious side of shareable content

Upworthy | The Filter Bubble | All Things D
There’s no shortage of aggregators on the Web trying to ride the cresting waves of viral content, but a new one launched Monday with a different spin. Upworthy promises to find content that is “highly sharable and clickable and actually important,” co-founder Eli Pariser writes. It will be a test of whether important news stories and public issues can be as viral as cat videos. Upworthy’s preference for visual content also makes it uniquely suited to thrive on Pinterest. All Things D’s Liz Gannes notes that Upworthy is another project funded by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, who just bought The New Republic.

Upworthy focuses on the sweet spot between awesome, meaningful and visual
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Editor of Daily Mail’s website defends attribution practices in face of growing criticism

This week’s issue of The New Yorker has a profile of the Daily Mail and the place it holds in Britain. The timing is perfect: last week the paper won 10 prizes at the U.K. Press Awards and the Mail was named Newspaper of the Year.

Writer Lauren Collins focuses most of her New Yorker piece on the paper, but also talks with Martin Clarke, editor of Mail Online, the Web version of the Mail. Recently, it was recognized as the newspaper site with the biggest online reach worldwide, according to one major analytics firm.

In addition to attracting lots of traffic, the Mail’s website has recently become a lightning rod for criticism. Earlier this month, I wrote about two Newsweek/Daily Beast writers (1,2) who said Mail Online stole their work and either offered no credit or the “tiniest fig leaf of attribution.”

These accusations have become increasingly frequent. Gawker’s Danny Gold expressed concerns in rather forceful terms earlier this month:

It’s not just that they steal stories so blatantly. They’ve been doing it for years, this is nothing new. It’s that they’re a bunch of assholes about it. They go out of their way to fuck over journalists and they reap the benefits by becoming the most highly trafficked newspaper on the Internet. How hard would it be to put in one link to an article?

So what does Clarke have to say about the accusations of story stealing and related claims of plagiarism? Here’s what he told Collins:

“We never like to follow a story without improving it, with either new facts, graphics, pictures, or video.” He went on, “We are also still catching up on some aspects of our Web-publishing platform, which was originally built just to put a newspaper online rather than run a rolling Internet news service. We will soon be introducing features that will allow us to link easily and prominently to other sites when further recognition of source material is needed.

His first defense — that they add value — relates to how the Mail’s site displays stories: they embed a ton of photos and other imagery within the text of the story (see this example for one of the stories taken from Newsweek).

And, yes, the Mail will often also add in facts from other stories, sometimes taking an American story and bringing in an example or two from elsewhere in the world. That was the case with another story taken from Newsweek, but the Mail version was taken offline not long after my post was published about the accusations of theft.

Of course, none of those points negate the way Mail Online treats content from other publishers:

  • Mail Online often reprints entire sentences and paragraphs without permission or attribution.
  • When it helps itself to copy from elsewhere and does decide to offer some form of credit, the most the Mail can manage is but one mention of the original source.
  • It does not link back to other media outlets. (Clarke blames this on the way their site is designed.)
  • When called out for stealing a story, Mail Online will sometimes remove the offending copy from its website without acknowledging the offense and/or apologizing.

Clarke told Collins that Mail Online adheres to fair use. That’s a puzzling statement when a portion of the online stories that bear the “Daily Mail Reporter” byline are taken from elsewhere without thought to fair use, netiquette or ethical aggregation.

The two recent examples of work taken from Newsweek are just the latest in a long line of Mail Online stories that liberally cut and paste copy from other websites. Recently, Mail Online has stolen stories and text from The IndependentThe Scotsman and Wikipedia, Bikya Masr, and the BBC, among others.

The U.K.-based Tabloid Watch blog has been cataloging similar incidents for some time. Visit the site’s plagiarism category page and scroll down for offense after offense. Poynter also previously reported on a particularly egregious bit of theft by the website.

It’s all the more remarkable, then, that of the 10 awards The Daily Mail won, one was for Website of the Year. In the citation for Mail Online, judges said the site’s “large amount of original content makes it essential reading in the newsrooms of competitors.”

Of course, it’s also possible competitors are visiting Mail Online to see if their stories have ended up there under someone else’s byline… Read more

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Can we agree about aggregation standards?

Tuesday at South by Southwest, Simon Dumenco spoke on a panel called, “Is Aggregation Theft?” The panelists all agreed that there are proper ways to aggregate, but there are plenty of “thefty” examples.

At 3 p.m. EDT Dumenco will describe his goals for a group he’s formed called the Council on Ethical Blogging and Aggregation, highlighted in David Carr’s Media Equation column Monday. (The Huffington Post took issue with Carr’s column, but not with the Council.) Among the things we’ll discuss during the chat:

  • Can we agree on standards for ethical aggregation?
  • How can you tell the difference between something that adds value and something that rips off someone’s idea?
  • Can we identify any aggregation best practices, such as length of posts, linking and credit?
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Can SEO-heavy aggregation eventually lead to in-depth journalism?
“Sometimes I think we want a one-size-fits-all, linear solution to the tumult in the news business when the the real ‘answer,’ such that it is, is that you have to walk before you can run, and that your transition for success SHOULD, and indeed must, have a lot of pivots in it, as most good entrepreneurial thinkers know.

“It reminds me of teaching beginning news reporting. … Somehow, learning to write the most basic, simple story launches you into a space in which you can then start doing some more interesting things as a reporter and a writer. Sometimes you have to learn a certain skill – how to be smart on the web – before you can start creatively melding that skill with some of your higher values of investigative journalism.”

Carrie Brown-Smith, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Memphis

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AP sues aggregator Meltwater News over copyright infringement

Associated Press | Meltwater
Six weeks after the AP and other investors launched a licensing organization to collect fees from aggregators, the AP has filed a lawsuit against Meltwater News, which bills itself as “more than a traditional media monitoring service.” AP CEO Curley calls it a “parasitic distribution service” that is undercutting AP’s business by providing its content to Meltwater clients without paying for it.

The AP says Meltwater is taking its customers — not the newspapers and broadcasters you normally think of as AP clients, and not the average guy scanning Google News at lunch, but those like the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. According to the lawsuit:

The U.S. government is one of AP’s largest customers, and AP’s subscriber roster includes nearly 100 government agencies — federal, state, local and foreign — including the U.S. Senate, the U.S. State Department, the New York City Police Department, and various foreign embassies. These government subscribers often do not publish the stories themselves, but monitor the news wire to stay apprised of timely, accurate news reports as they develop. …

AP has lost, and continues to lose, customers to Meltwater over the past several years. For example, the Department of Homeland Security terminated its contract with AP, choosing instead to receive AP content through Meltwater.

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New iPad app aggregates only long-form journalism

The essential role of an aggregator is to make choices for readers, usually about which topics, sources or issues are worth paying attention to. A new aggregation and reading app launching Wednesday for the iPad holds a different standard — length.

Longform for the iPad aggregates long pieces of writing from popular sources.

The Longform iPad app aggregates editors’ picks of long-form journalism from, as well as long stories from 25 sites known for such work, including The Atlantic, Slate, Mother Jones, and Esquire.

For most sources, the cutoff is 2,000 words, Longform co-founder Max Linsky told me, though editors can exercise discretion to include a great 1,500-word story or cut out a 4,000-word item that doesn’t belong.

“We really want this to be a home for this kind of writing on the device,” Linsky said. “The goal is to try to create a central place people can rely on to find a very particular kind of writing, which I think is really in a golden age.”

The app, which costs $4.99, embraces some popular ideas. Readers can share stories to social networks and save them to another reading app like Instapaper.

It also offers a reading view that strips an article down to a distraction-free page of just the text and photos, with customizable typography and spacing. First, though, the app displays articles on the publishers’ original Web page, ads and all; a user must switch to the reading view.

“It’s important to us that magazines get that page view,” Linsky said. “Even if that advertising model is broken, and particularly broken for long-form journalism, it’s still the model that they’re working under and we want to be helpful.”

One hot tech trend the app purposely avoids is personalized recommendations.

“We thought about that a lot,” Linsky said. “One of the things I realized after spending two years reading a really insane amount of this stuff is that after you read an incredible 5,000-word story about warlords in Afghanistan, you don’t really want to dive into another 5,000-word story about warlords in Afghanistan.”

The app should be available in the iTunes story around noon ET on Wednesday, Linsky said. Read more

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