Response to my post about aggregation merits a follow-up post on three points: verification, a comment I made about the Associated Press and the timing of blog posts.
Someone asked about where verification fit into aggregation, or suggested that it should be added as a step or a way that we add value when we aggregate.
I don’t think an aggregator needs to verify every point from a source you aggregate from. For instance, in yesterday’s post, which aggregated several links, I did not verify that Media General sold 63 newspapers to Warren Buffett. I had seen the number in several other pieces I had read and I used it in my aggregation of Dan Conover’s blog post about the purchase without verifying the number from the Media General announcement or the Media General website. I also didn’t check Dan’s math on the average cost for each of the newspapers, though it looked right using round numbers in my head.
I do think aggregation requires some assessment of the trustworthiness of the sources you’re aggregating from. If you trust the sources, attribute to them and link to them, I think that should suffice. Taking the time to independently verify every fact from sources you attribute to would limit how much you can aggregate. Just as aggregation has value, I believe trust has value and the work of other journalists and news sources has value. If you’ve attributed to a trustworthy source, I think you can aggregate without independent verification.
For instance, most daily newspapers aggregate their daily wire report from the Associated Press and other wire services (more on AP shortly) without independent verification because we trust the AP.
If you have doubts about information you are aggregating, you should verify those facts or express your doubts. Andy Carvin’s techniques of crowdsourcing verification should certainly be part of the aggregator’s toolbox.
When you are aggregating tweets from the scene of a breaking news event, you should note where appropriate what you have verified and what you haven’t.
I should have included a discussion of verification in the original post and I will add an edited version of this to the post for archival purposes.
(I apologize for failure to attribute the question or comment on verification. I was thinking it might be Elana Zak, whose questions prompted the first post. But I can’t find such a question in her tweets or in other tweets addressed to me. I also can’t find the question on Facebook or Google+ or in comments on the story or in my emails. I must be searching wrong. If you asked the question, please identify yourself.)
This tweet yesterday addressed verification, but wasn’t where the issue first came up:
— Ron Kampeas (@kampeas) May 18, 2012
Was I criticizing or accusing AP?
Years ago I was the subject of a flavor-of-the-month (or perhaps the week; personal perspective always exaggerates these things) story in the journalism-industry press. I said and wrote at the time that every journalist should be the subject of journalism now and then. It’s a valuable and not always comfortable reminder of how people react to our coverage of them.
In the way that we in the media constantly discuss ourselves, my blog occasionally spurs commentary or response from others in the media, and I am always fascinated by these responses. Sometimes they point out places where I did not make myself clear. Sometimes they show how people read something differently than you meant it. Often both things happen and always a helpful experience for a writer.
My friend and former TBD colleague Erik Wemple, who now does media reporting for the Washington Post, focused on a passage in my aggregation post for a post on his blog. The sentence in question: “The Associated Press is primarily largely an aggregation service*, except that it its members pay huge fees for the privilege of being aggregated (and for receiving content aggregated from other members).”
Erik’s headline (I presume he wrote the headline, but perhaps copy editors write heads for Post blogs) said: “Critic calls AP ‘primarily’ an aggregation service.” His final sentence referred to my statement as an “accusation.”
I meant the statement as neither a criticism nor an accusation. I preceded the sentence by saying that aggregation has a “long, proud and ethical history in journalism.” Is that how you set up an accusation? In the next paragraph, I noted aggregation practices of the New York Times and Washington Post. Then I added: “My point isn’t to criticize these traditional newspapers, just to note that aggregation isn’t a new practice just because it’s a fairly new journalism term.”
I went on to be clear that I was describing aggregation as something more than simply republishing something someone else had written (AP’s state reports include many stories contributed by member newspapers and aggregated by AP). I discussed a wide range of aggregation and curation practices, including original reporting that builds on earlier reporting by your own organization or others, which AP also does extensively.
In laying out my suggested best practices for aggregation (which was the point of the post), I had a whole section on adding value to aggregated content through original reporting, data analysis, commentary and the other techniques. (Though I didn’t say so, AP does all these things.)
Another thing I’ve long known is that people read journalism through the prism of their own experience. AP has changed its policies in recent years, in response to members’ complaints about their stories showing up in Google and Yahoo! as AP stories, ranking higher in search results than the members’ original stories. AP’s response to me (which I included in an update on the original post, but won’t repeat in full here) said member stories account for less than 2 percent of AP content licensed to Google, Yahoo! and other non-members and the stories in that 2 percent are “credited to the originating papers.” The implication here is that if it’s credited, it’s not aggregation. But I wrote at length about attribution as an aggregation practice.
The AP statement was not as precise in saying that it “picks up a number of member stories each day and shares them on our state news wires while noting the stories’ origins.” It would be interesting to know that “number.” If it’s five stories per state, that would be 250 stories per day. Ten stories per state would be 500; 20 per state would be 1,000. How would those numbers change that 2 percent when you look at total AP content?
AP was responding more to years of complaints from members (including me, when I was editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette and threatened to withdraw from AP) than to my statement that it engaged in a practice I called proud and ethical.
I closed the post by noting that the Bible was an example of aggregation, that public libraries are aggregators and that my Mom has aggregated news clippings for me for years. (Seriously, Erik, you think lumping the AP with the Bible, libraries and my Mom is criticism and an accusation. C’mon, man, you’ve seen me criticize. I don’t invoke Mom.)
The post had two primary points: To provide tips for aggregating and to note that aggregation is a worthy practice. My lead was: “Aggregation has become a dirty word in much of journalism today.” Erik pretty much acknowledged that in his final paragraph. Which he should, since he helped me prove that point.
I should note here that shortly before I heard from Erik, I got an email from another friend who also challenged the assertion that AP was “primarily” an aggregation service. I asked the friend to share his views in a comment, but he asked to keep the discussion private. When two respected friends with considerable media experience misunderstood what you wrote, you ought to also confess that you didn’t make yourself very clear. So this is my confession: I share fault for any misunderstanding about what I wrote, as a writer always does.
My biggest point here: Journalists should experience being written about now and then. What happened to me — a journalist focusing on something I didn’t regard as my primary point and understanding it differently — happens all the time, and I’m sure it’s happened to people I write about. Erik’s a top-flight journalist and his take on my post was pretty routine journalism. I think journalists benefit from occasional reminders of what it’s like to be on the other end of what we do, and I appreciate the reminder.
When should you post?
I had been working on the aggregation post for a few days, and it had been on my to-do list for weeks. Usually I post such evergreen material around 9 or 10 in the morning, because my experience has been that, if a post is going to get some traffic and generate some discussion, the most traffic and discussion will be the day that it is published, and morning posts tend to benefit by several hours’ worth of discussion and linking during the work day. That’s my observation after a few years of blogging, though I have seen many exceptions and I post timely content as quickly as I can, whatever time it is.
I was surprised recently when Poynter’s Jeff Sonderman (another TBD colleague; we really had a great crew there) wrote about Bitly data showing that afternoon is the best time to post content on Facebook and Twitter. That wasn’t my experience, but I respect data. And I had a little gap in my schedule Wednesday afternoon and posted about aggregation and posted the link to Twitter and Facebook right in the supposed prime spot.
I should be honest that I don’t have an outstanding track record for knowing which blog posts will soar in traffic and discussion (my Dear Newsroom Curmudgeon piece surprised me with the great response) and which will fall flat (I expected more than 1,000 views on my post on newspaper ad revenues falling to 1954 levels after adjusting for inflation, but I got just 543). But I guess right more often than I am surprised.
The aggregation post didn’t get the traffic I would have expected: Just 200 views Wednesday and 148 on Thursday. I was expecting something similar to my Feb. 27 post on linking (a related topic), which got 484 posts its first day and 306 its second. I posted that one on a Monday morning.
However, Friday’s traffic showed the value of social media in keeping discussion of a blog post alive. For some reason, two media-watching accounts with more than 100,000 combined followers tweeted links to the post Friday morning and traffic started taking off again:
— Mediagazer (@mediagazer) May 18, 2012
— Nieman Lab (@NiemanLab) May 18, 2012
Erik also tweeted in the afternoon and posted to his Washington Post blog later than that, and some people retweeted the Nieman Lab post.
Anyway, Friday was bigger than either Wednesday or Thursday, with 289 views on the post.
I’m not saying that the Bitly data isn’t accurate, and certainly one post is minuscule data (though my observations about hundreds of posts are extensive, even if mostly anecdotal). But I think you always should use data carefully. The Bitly data is comprehensive data, not data for niche blogs about journalism, so it might be useless in my case. Or I might need to dig into the data more deeply to find something useful.
I’ll keep posting evergreen material in the morning most of the time and timely material as soon as I can. But when something goes up in the afternoon, I’ll watch to see how it does. Maybe I’ll find out that early-afternoon posts do better than morning or mid-afternoon. This one’s going up in the early afternoon. But it’s going up on a Saturday, when traffic is usually lower. And navel-gazing posts like this one seldom get much attention anyway. I do them largely because it’s helpful to think through these issues, and writing is how I think through issues.