The Media Oxpecker: The Aggregation Serf’s Guide to the Ethics of Blogging

Every week we round up industry news you may have missed while you were busy getting nichey.

  • Last weekend, Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton criticised the paper for failing its young (former) blogger, Elizabeth Flock, who resigned after improperly attributing the source of a blog post.

    Pexton interviewed several current and former Post bloggers:

    They said that they felt as if they were out there alone in digital land, under high pressure to get Web hits, with no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing. Guidelines for aggregating stories are almost nonexistent, they said. And they believe that, even if they do a good job, there is no path forward.

    Flock’s current and former supervisors disputed those conclusions, pointing to the existence of the Post‘s Digital Publishing Guidelines for writers.

    Erik Wemple (whose blog is identified as a “Reported Blog,” reinforcing the Post‘s idea that blogs are defined by the absence of reporting) told Poynter, “As I’ve learned over the past 10 months or so, the work of a blogger looks a lot easier to someone who’s never done it than it is to execute.”

    “Consider, too, the unique tyranny of what Flock was doing,” he said. “In BlogPost, she had to hop from topic to topic on a moment’s notice. On March 23, for example, here’s the topical terrain that she traveled: The Toulouse shootings; Robert Bales; Jim Yong Kim; the Pope; and a news roundup.”

    “This is a game in which the participants are going to fail, sooner or later,” writes Trevor Butterworth, who summed it up best. “How can this be a ‘significant ethical lapse’ when the whole point of blogPOST is to profit from other people’s work? Because she drew attention to the essence of what aggregation really is?”

    The whole operation functions smoothly as long as the blogger-journalist doesn’t make a mistake, because a mistake draws attention to the inherent cheapness of the product and the ethical dubiety of the entire process. You see, the Post—or any legacy news organization turned aggregator—wants to have its cake and other people’s cake too, and to do so without damaging its brand as a purveyor of original cake.

    Flock was tasked with the equivalent of “flipping news burgers,” says Butterworth, with one major exception:

    In McAggregate, you are never going to flip the exact same burger twice. This means the probability that you’re going to unknowingly report something false or miss a crucial ingredient is much, much higher than McDonald’s is likely to serve an undercooked burger.

  • celebrated its second birthday yesterday, tallying 2,805 articles in its first two years. What stories were the most popular? Stories about sex and/or murder:

    Turns out that it doesn’t really matter what kind of content you’re talking about—video, pics, 5,000-word features—sex on the internet is still sex on the internet. Stories in the sex category were nine times as likely to end up among the year’s most read … On the whole, crime stories aren’t much more popular than the average article on Longform … But if the crime is murder, the reads skyrocket.

  • Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Google has tweaked its search algorithm to punish sites guilty of web spam. Some of the offending behavior: Keyword stuffing, link schemes, and purposeful duplicate content.

  • What your Klout score really means:

    Matt Thomson, Klout’s VP of platform, says that a number of major companies—airlines, big-box retailers, hospitality brands—are discussing how best to use Klout scores. Soon, he predicts, people with formidable Klout will board planes earlier, get free access to VIP airport lounges, stay in better hotel rooms, and receive deep discounts from retail stores and flash-sale outlets. “We say to brands that these are the people they should pay attention to most,” Thomson says. “How they want to do it is up to them.”

  • How tech’s giants want to re-invent journalism.

  • Are robots and content farms the future of the news?

  • More people are visiting news websites and spending more time on those sites, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

  • Adam Sherk has compiled a list of the “Fastest and Slowest News Sites in 2012” using Google’s page speed tester. How does your site stack up? Test it here.

  • When is a scoop non-public information? Felix Salmon started a lively debate about the ethics of newspapers selling advance access to market moving news, such as the New York Times‘ exposé on Walmart bribery in Mexico:

    In a sense, there’s something very economically inefficient about scoops like this one. The NYT story came out in the middle of the weekend, when markets were closed; when they opened on Monday morning, both Walmart and Walmex had billions of dollars shaved off their market capitalizations, but no one was given the opportunity to short those stocks at their prior level. After many months of diligent and valuable work on this story, one would think that a genuinely capitalist economy wouldn’t just leave money on the table like that. After all, buy-side institutions pay millions of dollars to analysts who research companies like Walmart in depth; isn’t that exactly what the NYT was doing?

  • Click-through rates may matter even less than we thought, says AdAge.

  • Digital display ad forecasts are irrelevant, says James Gross. “Why? Because there is no such thing as display advertising on most of the platforms where consumer attention is flowing.”

  • U.S. mobile advertising is forecasted to double in 2012, to an estimated $4.2 billion.

  • To help businesses understand mobile advertising, Google has released “The Mobile Playbook: The Busy Executive’s Guide to Winning with Mobile.”

  • A research group predicts that by 2017, Facebook’s mobile ad revenue could hit $490 million.

  • Less is more when designing a news website.

  • How Facebook finds the best design talent, and keeps them happy.

  • How one writer learned to stop worrying and love the exclamation point!

  • And finally, The State of the Web 2012, as told by The Oatmeal.