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

September 26, 2012
Category: Uncategorized

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.

Between the cracks of this exchange you can view two schools of thought about aggregation. Seward appears to think Quartz’s utility is enhanced by sending readers afield (my old boss Jim Brady is a strong believer in the power of the back button). Sheffield — I don’t think it’s fair to conflate her with CJR — appears to think it’s better to keep readers within the gates.

David Carr’s piece about Quartz has a probably unintentionally resonant description of the site’s editorial approach, which he says serves globe-hopping “executives who are increasingly having similar conversations no matter where they land.”

Arguments about aggregation show no sign of letting up in all these years we’ve been having them. I actually think the fluid consensus about what makes for “good” aggregation is one of the form’s strengths because it forces people who do it to constantly think about improving one of the Web’s basic activities. Is it adding value with original reporting, drawing together disparate sources readers might not have found or whisking them onto another site altogether? You don’t often hear those kind of conversations about, say, gamers.

Paul Raeburn reviews the site, too, and is skeptical about its pre-launch hype. For instance, Quartz’s reliance on sponsored content, he writes, is “a mine field.”

Will the site draw a firm line between ads and editorial content, so readers know which is which without looking for the fine print?

Here’s an example of Quartz’s sponsored content.

Reviewing Quartz, Nieman Journalism Lab honcho Joshua Benton says Quartz’s link-out philosophy makes the site feel “2012 born”:

Linking out also gets first-class status; aggregated posts that point readers off-site live alongside full articles, with roughly equal weight. It has a JSON-spitting API at launch, so if you don’t like its design, you could mash up an alternative without too much trouble. The great gift of a media startup in 2012 is the ability to leap over the cruftiness the industry has accumulated, and Quartz seems set on doing just that.

I had to look up “cruftiness,” too. One definition is remnants of old work cluttering up new work.

Disclosure: My wife recently began working on a freelance basis for Quartz’s sister publication The Atlantic as a researcher.

Related: 5 things journalists should know about Quartz, Atlantic Media’s business news startup | The journalistic value of aggregation creates the business value | The aggregator’s dilemma: How do you fairly serve your readers & the sources you rely on?


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