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Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Pexton’

I have added three updates, marked in bold, since posting this originally.

Aggregation has become a dirty word in much of journalism today.

Bill Keller, former editor of the New York Times, last year wrote: “There’s often a thin line between aggregation and theft.”

Patrick Pexton, Washington Post ombudsman, in an April 20 column called plagiarism “a perpetual danger in aggregated stories.”

Actually, aggregation has a long, proud and ethical history in journalism. If you’re an old-school journalist, don’t think Huffington Post or Drudge when you think about aggregation; think AP. 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).

The New York Times and Washington Post also have long histories of aggregation. In my years at various Midwestern newspapers, we reported big local and regional stories that attracted the attention of the Times, Post and other national news organizations. Facts we had reported first invariably turned up in the Times and Post stories without attribution or with vague attribution such as “local media reports.” I don’t say that critically. When I was a reporter and editor at various Midwestern newspapers, we did the same thing with facts we aggregated from smaller newspapers as we did regional versions of their local stories.

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. It’s one of many areas where journalism practices and standards are evolving, and I believe standards are actually improving in most cases.

After the Washington Post case, Elana Zak asked me and others if journalists needed to develop guidelines for aggregation.

I’m happy to contribute to that conversation with some thoughts about aggregation. I’ll start with discussing what I mean by aggregation (and its cousin or sibling, curation):

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For the last few months, I have taken a few turns leading the #ASNEchat on Twitter for the American Society of News Editors. Starting today, we are going to alternate live-chat formats. We’ll still do a Twitter chat every other week. But on the alternating weeks, including today, we’ll do the live chat using CoverItLive at ASNE.org.

Today’s chat will discuss the role of newsroom ombudsmen with four panelists with interesting perspectives on the topic:

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Journalists hate few things more than buzzwords. Many of us regard ourselves as guardians of the language (as if protecting the First Amendment and being watchdogs of the powerful weren’t enough guard duties). Buzzwords feel to many purists as some kind of assault on the language.

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton writes scornfully of my pursuit in his column today:

This is what “engagement” — the buzzword of media theorists and marketers — is all about. It’s using Twitter and Facebook to build a tribe or family of followers, even disciples, who will keep reading you.

I won’t try here to set Pexton straight on what engagement is all about, though my earlier post explaining community engagement might educate him a bit. What I want to address here is the widespread dismissal of new terminology by my fellow veteran journalists.

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