The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Cops and courts, meet cropping and curation

Over at the Village Voice, Joe Coscarelli is writing about the future of the Atlantic Wire, and along the way, we get this great line from the Atlantic’s Bob Cohn:

Yeah, I think that coming in and doing curation and aggregation in many ways is the new ‘go out to a small paper and earn your stripes covering the school board.’

Man, I so want that to be true—but I’m not sure that I believe it. Coscarelli follows the quote with a little sidebar rumination, and it’s worth reading. For some reason the whole thing leaves me unsettled—but I’m not sure why. As you know, I’m a fan of curation… and really not a fan of the school board.

I think it might have something to do with stock and flow. Maybe I think too much flow early in life stunts your growth. Maybe I think the very thing you need to do most as a twenty-something is take a deep breath and a step back and make something new. Maybe I think there’s just way too much flow out there already. I don’t know; I’m still trying to figure out why I had such a strong reaction to the idea. I’m curious to know what you think.


There is too much flow when it comes to content, as the internet as turned into a giant social pinball — with the same 15-30 stories bouncing around every site over a three-day window. Which is to say, that I’m guilty as the next person of perpetuating this problem.

The difficult thing is balancing original(ish) content with aggregating what’s happening. However, when it comes to news organizations or the current media landscape the school board is stock. Media organizations/blogs should value curation but only as it funnels into the school board.

Knowing what’s newsworthy is less important than digging for the news, at least for young journalists, anyways.

I think I don’t like it because it treats curation as journalistic hazing. If you do THIS for long enough, we’ll trust you with the REAL work. is proof for me that curation can have incredible value if done well.

really not a fan of the school board.

Wait, what? Why aren’t you a fan of the school board? I didn’t know this! Please explain!

That was perhaps a confusing turn of phrase—I meant I am not a fan of the “cover the school board / zoning commission / skunk farm for two years” journalism career pattern. I think it was (is?) an engine for jadedness more than an engine for skill.

Actually, Tim’s graf that begins “Now, two things have changed” (below) sums it up.

Tim Carmody says…

Well, let’s take this back and look at it from another perspective. The “old” and “new” ways share the same general premise: that mature reporters know the craft of reporting and writing and editing original stories, but also know a beat, are familiar with the language, can separate real stories from noise, have developed sources, and generally have the subject-matter tools they need in order to write those original stories.

Under the “go out and cover the school board” method, the most important thing was the craft part. You would do everything the “seasoned,” mature reporters did, but you would do it with a small, low-stakes beat. You’d go to events and make some phone calls and write inverted pyramid stories and get them chewed up by editors and you’d do it over and over again until you had the craft part of being a journalist down. And then, you’d move to a different desk, and apply exactly the same skills to a completely different subject matter, producing pretty much the same kinds of stories, only know the stories are a little bigger and the sources aren’t necessarily as forthcoming and generally you’ve got to work a little harder because the stakes are a little higher. But it’s basically the same kind of job.

Now, two things have changed: if you’re young, you can start on any beat you want. I mean, really, you can. If you’re into national politics or consumer technology or classical music or whatever, you can start writing about it, and maybe even (especially depending on the beat) weasel a way into getting paid for it. And you know, I think that’s probably a good thing. It’s good that we have young people who really want to write about science, or LGBT issues, or baseball, and that’s what they want to make their living doing, and they don’t have to be a generic reporter first in order to do that. In fact, the beats are continually getting so complicated and knowledge-specific that if you DON’T have somebody like that working them, you’re going to get burnt.

And beat-based aggregations are a great way to learn a beat, and a pretty danged good way to learn the craft.

Now, to clarify: when I was at Wired, we used “aggregation” to mean any short post that wasn’t based on our own original reporting. It may have come from a press release or another blog or newspaper, but it was never just a link — you always had to rewrite it, and try to give it a slightly different spin. Sometimes the challenge was all craft. So-and-so wrote it this way, but my three paragraphs have to be better. Or it’d be knowledge-added: what’s really important is the connection to this.

If you’re just bookmarking a whole bunch of links on a slew of topics, that’s not really great training for anything professional. But if you’re doing beat-based aggregation, with summary/rewrites, and every one of those 15 kids is working a specific desk (and talking to each other, too), then, yeah, I think that’s pretty good training for good journalism. A lot better in many ways, than the old ways.

As for taking a deep breath and stepping back and making something new — well, come on. Kids need day jobs, too.

Carmody pulls a Carmody!

I agree w/ everything you just wrote.

What I like about this Carmody reply (well one of the many things) is that it explodes the thought I would have posted which would have had to do with the problem of echo chambers and how the aggregation approach encourages that, and that is already a problem in the press.

The idea here of narrowly focused beats and aggregation, that then makes it make sense again. Because while it’s lacking in shoe leather reporting, it gains in having one’s ear perpetually to the ground, meaning it’s like a constant research project.

That said, the recurring theme in the whole “why you should care about the death of newspapers” song is that newspapers fund sending people to boring meetings etc. so that they know what’s going on and can be there when something good happens. Nevermind that this was already rapidly becoming a myth before the Internet, the concern remains valid. How do we ensure that enough eyes are on the small stuff that matters? If your focus is on aggregation, you are only ever as good as other people’s eyes and if no one is looking you’ll never see it. Though if all you do is wander around city hall, you’ll miss a lot too.

Now I’ve confused myself.

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