The journalistic value of aggregation creates the business value

Aggregation has been core to this website’s success for the last decade. Our most popular feature since 1999 has been a blog that earns its iconic place in journalism by highlighting the most interesting and important news for a passionate audience. (In case you haven’t caught on, that blog is Romenesko.)

As I consider the fallout this week from Huffington Post’s decision to suspend Amy Lee for what I called “over-aggregation” in a headline and post about it aggregated by Steve Myers, it seems important to be transparent about how, for us, the journalistic value of aggregation creates the business value of aggregation.

Staci Kramer started me thinking down this path with her reminder that “a HuffPo link done right can have a positive effect.”

As Romenesko has taught us through the years, a leading, respected aggregator has the power to influence an audience by proposing what matters, by guiding readers to reliable sources, and by keeping them company as they travel through the newsosphere.

But that power is derived from originality.

No one needs a map to travel familiar roads. We need one -- or a tour guide -- to lead us into unfamiliar terrain. And as the familiar has been overtaken by the foreign during journalism’s remapping, aggregation has continued to play an important role. (In fact, that’s one of the reasons Romenesko’s blog now includes some additional contributors.)

The best aggregated material introduces us to new people, takes us new places and tilts the landscape so that we see it differently. That process involves distilling the terrain into a single point of interest and pointing, "Hey, look at that!"

The product brings original perspective to the news of the day, surprising us, provoking us and beckoning us back regularly.

Aggregation worth reading creates a loyal audience worth reaching.

That audience looks for a synthesis, not a comprehensive summary. The people who write comprehensive summaries are rewriters not aggregators, as Techmeme’s Gabe Rivera puts it.

In distilling Techmeme’s best practices, Rivera uses a table that illustrates how Poynter's aggregation works as well, while illustrating a point about the business value of aggregation.

The value of the third item -- ads -- hinges on the first two, for aggregators. We receive constant tips and requests from people who want to be featured in the Romenesko blog. Appearing there provides them with validation and audience. If the value of being aggregated is clear to your sources, then it will be clear to advertisers and sponsors.

Even as readers began using RSS feeds, then Twitter, now Google+ to filter and surface information, there is no replacement for that scout who looks ahead and leads you safely around the curve you might not otherwise have seen coming. That’s what the best aggregation does. And that trust is why there’s a business in it -- for those we pay to do the work and those who pay us to reach that audience of readers.

Over-aggregation devalues journalism. It also undermines other people's businesses. And long-term, I doubt it’s a good business model. But originality always is.


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