Aggravating Aggregators

Maury Brown is the most recent to address the growing “problem” of aggregating websites. In case you are new to the Internet, these are sites that simply collect and link to other sites, contributing little or no original content.

Brown outlines the unhappy reactions of those who are producing original reporting— mainly, newspapers.

Now, this dilemma is not new, but one particular part of Brown’s piece interested me. In discussing MetsBlog.com, a blog devoted to (you guessed it) the New York Mets and one of the most popular of the so-called “aggregating” websites, Brown mentions that many Mets beat writers resent the site’s popularity.

Recently, though, Matthew Cerrone, the blog’s founder, tweeted this response to critics: “WFAN just cited a newspaper report on air. I tried to click the link, but it was radio, so I guess I can’t read the original report.”

Basically, news sources have been piggy-backing on each other for years. The only difference is that now it happens a lot faster.

This debate is actually starting to sound a lot like one we had at NPI last month over a similar issue— we were concerned over literary/creative originality, while this debate is about journalistic integrity.

Now, the debate in journalism is obviously different— saying something first is much more important in reporting than it is in literature (in some cases, it’s the entire point). At the same time, though, the debate seems to hinge on a similar point: Namely, at what point has someone contributed enough “original content” to effectively appropriate it?

In the case of reporting, though, the problem is almost inverted. Ideally, we don’t want them adding any “original content” (in journalism, they call that stuff “fabrications”); we just want the facts. Obviously, though, the first person to report something should get cited, but when does something make its way from “breaking news” to common knowledge? I’m sure someone was the first to report on how Bill Clinton freed two journalists in North Korea, but by now it’s basically common knowledge. Citing one individual source for common knowledge seems silly*— and that happened two days ago. 

*In high school, as a way to stick it to English teachers who were Draconian about citations (which is basically every high school English teacher), I always planned to turn in a paper with a footnote after every word that included every recorded usage of that word in the O.E.D., to prove that it was impossible to ever truly put something in “my own words.” Unfortunately, high school John S was too cowardly to ever actually do this.

Technology has so dramatically decreased the lag-time between one person knowing something and everyone knowing it (Brown himself has a joke about re-tweets counting as plagiarism), that I wonder if “breaking a story” is eventually going to be one of those outdated achievements, like driving across the continent, or owning a cell phone. In yet another way, then, the face of journalism is changing forever.  

2 responses to this post.

  1. […] independence of the press, journalism, publib subsidization, RIAA, technology. Leave a Comment John writes, “Technology has so dramatically decreased the lag-time between one person knowing something and […]

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  2. […] S talked about the problem of aggregating sites way back in August; now, Craig Fehrman of The Big Money wonders why sports aggregators seem to […]

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